A Guest Post By: Chris Framstead
If you’ve worked in EMS anywhere near the Denver Metro area in the last 20 years you’re probably going to really like today’s offering by EMT Spot guest author Chris Framstead. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Chris for over a decade now and I’ve hounded him to put his fingers to the keys for The Spot. Chris is an uncomparable teacher and an insatiable student of all things EMS. Is his twenty year career he has been an EMT, a paramedic, a firefighter, an EMS administrator, a chemical weapons and explosives specialist and a teacher at various colleges around the nation.
Today Chris is the International Training Coordinator for the famed Texas Engineering Extension Services, the worlds largest emergency responder training facility and a division of Texas A+M. If you happen to be one of the 80,000 responders who pass through the facility for one training or another, you might run in to Chris. Buy him a cup of coffee and ask how things were … back in the day.
Back in the Day
I’ve been in EMS and fire service for twenty years now, and have been a certified EMS provider for the past eighteen years. Over this time (which is not all that long compared to my other friends in the Denver system who have been playing the game a lot longer), I have seen a lot of change. Lately I’ve heard, what feels like, a lot of brand spanking new, right off the lot new Paramedics, and EMT-Basics, standing outside the EMS classroom, or outside the volunteer fire station, talking about “back in the day”. I have to laugh, not to belittle their stories, but because “back in the day” to a twenty year old EMT-Basic, was….well…..2007. So my mind started racing and memories started flowing, as I thought back to my wonderful career and the “back in the day” memories I have.
So as I was sitting in my kitchen this morning drinking my first (of many) cups of coffee….and I thought…what a cool article….”back in the day”. I am certain if I presented this article title to any one of my friends who have been around the Denver system for as long, or longer than myself, they we could easily write a book about “back in the day”. I simply had my memories flowing this morning and wanted to share them with you readers, in hopes of striking up your memories of “back in the day”.
When I got my start in emergency response, it was 1987, and I was a snot nosed kid who wanted to be a firefighter, or a paramedic, or someone who got to ride on a big truck with a loud siren and go real fast. I started out with the Arapahoe Rescue Patrol (ARP). Now…ARP, “back in the day”, was an all male, high school aged members, search andrescue team, led by the legendary Stan G. Bush (God rest his soul). We all know that in 2009, all male, or all any gender groups, clubs, etc… just don’t exist. If you ask around, you may be shocked at how many of the “old farts” you work with, also got their start in ARP. As a member of ARP, I was part of the “fire team”. This was a group of kids, who chose their focus to be firefighting, and learning more about what it takes to be a firefighter.
As a member of the “fire team” we did ride-alongs with either Littleton FD or South Metro Fire Rescue, which “back in the day”, was called Castlewood Fire Rescue. At this time, “back in the day”, Castlewood Fire Rescue consisted of stations 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36. We all know that in 2009, the growth of the area served by South Metro Fire Rescue has grown to the extreme, requiring massive growth of the department. The department has been greatly expanded to far beyond just the six stations I remembered in 1987. In 1987, the Castlewood Fire Rescue was under command of a great man by the name of Chief James Etzel. Station 33 was the station I chose to do my ride-alongs at, and B shift was the shift I loved. B shift at station 33, “backin the day”, consisted of Lt. Bob Brannan, and Engineer Jerry French on E33. On R33 it was always a shuffle, but the medics I remember the most were Dave Zude, and Andy Kirwin. Also at the station were Keith “King Kong” Gundy, John White, and John Armstrong. The Battalion Chief of B shift was Chief Larry Wright. At station 33, I rode on E33 with Lt. Brannan and Jerry French. Yup…you heard me right…just those two gents made up E33. If you remember, in 1987, “back in the day”, we didn’t have this thing called “minimum staffing”. I mean, I guess we sort of did, Jerry needed an officer, and Lt. Brannan needed a driver….that was the minimum. When I rode along, I was the third. (And only a 15 year old third-rider!) In addition, “back in the day”, I rode in an outside jump seat with no retaining bar, no ear protection, no heat, etc… on E33. I think the retaining bar came in 1990, and enclosed cabs became the standard in the same era. I’m happy to say I was a part of this era in the fire service, to be able to write about outside cab jump seats, and two person engines. When you talk to firefighters who have a great deal more that 20 years in, they will tell you about “back in the day” when they did this thing called “tail boarding”. Heck…at 15 years old, Jerry French let me back E33 into the station. This was my first time actually driving a fire truck. Granted I only went 50’, but it was an experience that today I cherish to this day. Think about that…. In 2009, a 15 year old kid is riding along at your fire house, you have a $500,000.00 + apparatus on the apron, are you going to let that kid within 5’ of the cab??…I think not! But “back in the day” things were different.
I owe a great deal of how my career panned out to these men. These men not only helped me be the Firefighter I wanted to be, but also showed me the values of being a man, which made me the husband and father I am today. That is my “back in the day” memory of Castlewood Fire Rescue.
On September, 10, 1989 I learned what the “ultimate sacrifice” meant in the fire service when Castlewood lost one of its finest. Captain John Patrick Hagar made the ultimate sacrifice at the Paradise Cleaners fire on September 10, 1989. I’m happy and proud to say that there is truly no “back in the day” for a Firefighter loss. We hurt today as much as we did in 1989, mourn today as much as we did in 1989, cry as much today as we did in 1989, and both celebrate, and cherish life today as much as we did in 1989. In some sense, after the horrific events of September 11th, the meaning “ultimate sacrifice” has a whole new meaning, and the joy of being a Firefighter, and an American, is indescribably a new sense of pride. What I learned on September 10, 1989 is truly what kind of family the fire service is, and that the profession I wanted so bad to be in, was dangerous. Was I ready for that? At 15 years old, that’s a heavy question. But nonetheless, I proceeded on my career goal of becoming a firefighter.
In 1990, I was fortunate enough to become firefighter with the Castle Rock Fire Rescue. “Back in the day”, station 151 was located at 310 3rd St. in Castle Rock. I think it’s a window store or something now. “Back in the day” at Castle Rock Fire Rescue, I remember Minitor I pagers, Norris Croom was a Paramedic on the AMR ambulance based at station 152, as was Paramedic John Mason. Chief Norris Croom is still with the Castle Rock Fire Rescue. Craig Denhard was an officer (now with South Metro Fire Rescue last I knew). The department was under command of Chief Joe Schum , III. Castle Rock was an all volunteer department in 1990. Things have certainly changed, as Castle Rock has grown to be a Denver suburb practically, the department is all career, and you’d never know the department was as small as it was only 20 years ago (which to me feels like last year), “back in the day”.
After a wonderful college period as an intern with the Berthoud Fire Protection District, and going to college at AIMS Community College in Greeley, in 1993-1994 I started EMS in the Denver system. This was an odd turning point for EMS in Denver (at least for a new EMT). I was technically hired as a Haley Ambulance EMT, yet at the time Haley and Foothills Ambulance, out of Golden, were in the process of being bought out by Laidlaw and thus was born Med Trans of the Rockies. I say it was an odd point in time for a new EMT because; you want to talk about confusion. “Back in the day”, I wore a Haley Ambulance uniform white-shirt; Med Trans of the Rockies pants (evidenced by the “Med Trans of the Rockies” rocker on each on the side cargo pockets); and rode around in a Foothills Ambulance rig. Who the heck do I work for again??? Try and answer the question from a patient when they ask “what service are you with?” I just had to give the “deer in the headlights” look at the patient because I was about as confused as they were. “Ummmmm…..technically I work for Med Trans of the Rockies (I guess…)”, I would say.
Haley station 1 was at Colfax and Tennyson in an old house. Our neighbor, “back in the day”, sat on his porch with a rifle on his lap, and popped off a few rounds just randomly when he felt like it (not at us of course). Our dispatch center (or something that we called a dispatch center), was in the Colfax and Tennyson house in a back bedroom. Our dispatchers were the masters Chris Smith (now with Air Life Greeley), and the shirtless, rapper looking, Chris James, also known to the crews as “G”. Chris James is now a very successful Firefighter (and maybe an officer now for all I know), on Denver Fire’s elite Rescue 1 company.
In the Foothills station, “back in the day”, was a grouchy as hell EMT going through Paramedic school named Pat Ryan, an incredible teacher, yet a bit on the “sit on the X”, kind of medic named Billy Kraft, a blonde EMT named Tony Diedrichs (who last I checked was a successful Denver PD Officer), Steve Steele (now with Platte Valley Ambulance), and Donny Branning (now a station officer with West Metro Fire). It was here that I learned that Golden EMS, and Denver EMS were two totally separate beasts. It was here where I for the first time heard Billy Kraft (the “triage master”) get on the radio andrequest every ambulance in the city of Denver for a tour bus that was struck by a boulder in Clear Creek Canyon. I listened to the radio as the dispatcher, Chris Smith calmly asked, “OK Billy…just to confirm, you want EVERY ambulance in the city of Denver?”. Andjust as calmly as Chris Smith’s confirmation of his gutsy request, Billy said in a calm, yet stern voice, “that’s affirmative”. “Copy that Billy”, said Chris. I don’t believe he actually had every ambulance in Denver, but Billy had a bunch up there that day, and ran the scene like the pro he was.
A welcoming “back in the day” as the “new guy” at Foothills, involved Billy Kraft dumping a 5 gal bucket of water in your lap as you sat in the recliner in the living room of the station (yes…that was my welcoming by Billy Kraft…aka…”The Reverend”).
The station to be at during the Haley/Foothills/Med Trans days was Commerce City. Commerce City was known “back in the day”, as “the hood”, or “Combat City”, and at the time was rated as the time as the 2nd most violent city in Colorado. It was when I was assigned to ambulance 29 in Commerce where I met some incredible friends, who taught me how to be an EMT (in hopes of my being a Paramedic someday). Verne Ullrich (now with SWAC Fire, and to this day one of my closest friends and fishing buddy’s), Colby Allen (now a successful Police Officer…last I knew), and Richie Sanchez, and Renee Dominguez (known at the time as the “Paramexicans”).
In 1993-94, we all worked what came to be known as the “Summer of Violence”, where during the year there were 74 homicides in Denver, and believe me; everyone got their share of seeing the trauma. Anyone who worked in Commerce City “back in the day” could tell you what facility was located at 7373 Birch, and that “Russel, Russel, Fir, Poze” was the little rhyme we used to remember the short cut of streets used to get from Commerce City to Thornton to cover their district when it got busy in the system.
Now in 2009, the old Med Trans/Haley/Foothills are all called AMR. Pridemark, Rural Metro, and Action Care have all joined the mix of the privates. Northglenn Ambulance is the EMS provider in Commerce City, which by the way, Commerce City has grown so much that you almost couldn’t imagine what it use to look like in 1993-94.
But as we all look back at our individual “back in the day” memories, it’s amazing how everything we all remember has changed so much. I hate to even mutter the words “we’re getting old”, but as Chris “G” James told me long ago when he was a Haley dispatcher, in a land far, far away, “never forget where you started”. All of our personal “back in the day” memories have shaped us all into the people and professionals we are today. All the folks I have spoken about in this article have progressed to bigger and better, yet never forgetting where we all came from “back in the day”. Never forget where you came from and always remember the incredible memories known as “back in the day”.
Note from Steve: EMS is an industry that moves and changes so fast, it’s remarkable how quickly we all develop or own, “back in the day” memories. Before you move on, click on the comments box and tell Chris and I your favorite memory of an EMS time that’s come and gone. We’d love to hear from you.