The 30% Club
By Jake Rixner
is a little known club in the fire service; I call it the 30% club.
The members of this club have what it takes to get the job done no matter
what the circumstances.
I first noticed this club when assigned
to 5 Engine in Richmond, Virginia. 5 Engine was the busiest Engine
Company in Richmond, for the entire 8 years I was assigned there.
It was a wonderful place for a young fireman to learn his trade.
In the early 1980’s all three shifts at
the nickel were taking in about 80 to 100 working fires a year, most of
which were in the first due. To really learn how to be a good fireman,
one has to go to fires. And the action didn’t get any better than 5 Engine.
Some of the best Officers, and firemen
were assigned to the busy house on Leigh Street. Lessons of previous battles
were passed down from the senior members. Friendships were forged
that will be taken to the grave. We also worked with 18 other men
assigned to 1 Truck that shared the cramped quarters. Many of them,
were also members of the 30% club.
is the 30% club?
Pitch black smoke, the sound of crackling
fire, a campfire noise amplified 100 times by being confined inside a building.
Who is that? It’s Buzzy, It’s Pinky, It’s Radar, it’s Mikey, It’s
Bryan, It’s Grayson, and the list goes on. Richmond has always been
blessed with great firemen; it has been passed down from generation to
generation. It always felt good to be crawling down that long dark,
hot hallway with these men.
you ever noticed that when first arriving at a working fire, its always
the same guys who step-up and take the fight to the fire? Now far
be it for me to point fingers at the rest of the members, but it seems
that some guys have a strong urge for self-preservation. Another important
point is that someone has to take the hydrant.
In my early days as a Richmond Fireman,
it was always the same guys you bumped into inside a fire building.
Upon finding the fire, the pipe is opened
and the steam seams to find every opening in your clothing, making and
uncomfortable situation even worse. Thru clenched jaws you “stick
it out” that extra 30 seconds that it takes to turn a second alarm fire
into just another all-hands job.
The members of the 30% club know that their
work will not be featured on the news, the public will never see what they
do. That small burns to the ears, & neck are part of the trade. They
know that many second and third alarm fires (which can generate intense
media coverage) would have been put out for want of a thirty percenter
on the pipe. Members of the club also know that once the fire is
knocked down, there will be a wave of firemen on scene wanting to help
pull ceilings and walls, making sure the rub a little soot on themselves.
At times it gets so tight you can’t move.
So what is it that drives these guys?
Thirty percenters love the challenge of taking on a force of nature, and
living to tell about it. They know that the true reward working in
this business is what you give back to the community, the life you helped
save, the building you helped save, the little boys baseball card collection.
A little girl’s American girl doll collection. The family photo album.
Things that can never be replaced are some of the things that drive the
“thirty percenter”. There is also a bond, a brotherhood that is formed
by shared hardships, and shared danger. Respect, the respect you
get from Officers and co-workers. I can remember what it meant to
me. The many times of “Good job” or the eye contact from officers who know
what you just went through, and what you’ve accomplished. The respect your
company receives from the Battalion Chiefs. The respect you receive
in the firehouse kitchen, etc. It feels good to be in the thirty
do you join?
You join the club by taking all available
training classes. Learn your business so you are not a danger to yourself
or those around you. Then you must figure out who in your department is
trustworthy, and stick with him at the next fire. Like any trade, you need
a mentor to show you the ropes.
Be careful, the loudest talker at the kitchen
table may not be the best fireman on the fireground; its often that quiet
guy sitting at the table taking it all in, who just might surprise you
at the next worker. One sure way to tell is to push the line in at
the next fire and see who you bump into………I can promise you that it is
right then that you will have become a candidate for the thirty percent
club. And you may even be seen with a slight grin on your face when one
of the pretenders rubs a dirty glove across his face…
About the author
Jake Rixner is a fire Lieutenant
with 20 years service in the Richmond,
Virginia Fire Department. He previously worked as a firefighter in
DC. His fire service career started as a volunteer in Monroeville,
Pennsylvania in 1978 at Company #5 (the busiest in Alleghany County).
He has had articles featured
in Fire Engineering Magazine and has instructed at the FDIC. He is an instructor
in Virginia. Lt. Rixner holds an associate's degree in Fire Science. Lt.
Rixner still volunteers in Kentland
in Prince Georges County, MD.