FDNY fan

Ok, so here is my geeky admission; just like most boys, I have a secret fascination of fire engines.

Not just any old fire engines though. For me the best fire engines are to be found in New York City.

While it goes without saying that I admire all fire-fighters, I have a special respect for the FDNY. It faces an extraordinarily varied challenge. In addition to responding to building types that range from wood-frame single family homes to high-rise structures, there are the many bridges and tunnels, large parks and wooded areas that can give rise to major brush fires, and one of the largest subway systems in the world.

No wonder they have been given the motto “New York’s Bravest”

Despite been to NYC 3 times, I still never tire of the sights and sounds of the FDNY fire trucks battling to get through traffic, hurtling through intersections, lights blazing, sirens wailing, air horns blaring and flags flying.

It makes for an unforgettable noise experience when someone is driving a 27 tonnes engine at breakneck speed as Engine Company 16 and Ladder Company 7 demonstrate!

Below is a picture I took in 2005 of the Seagrave truck of FDNY Ladder Company 10, which together with FDNY Engine Company 10 is based at “The Ten House” at 124 Liberty St, Manhattan.

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On September 11, 2001, the 1994 Seagrave 100 foot rear-mount aerial was destroyed. When Ladder Company 10 re-entered service on February 19, 2002, the rig was a second-hand 1989 Seagrave 100 foot rear mount. This was replaced on March 28, 2002, by the vehicle you see above.

This particular rear mount is the only one in the FDNY fleet, with the distinctive murals painted on its sides. The 23-foot illustrated mural, designed and donated by Seagrave employees, and similar to the 911 memorial flag-raising image, was applied to both sides of the body to depict a front view of the flag raising on the driver side, and the back view on the officer side.

The Ten House, located on Liberty Street directly across from where the World Trade Center stood, suffered significant damage and was virtually destroyed on September 11, 2001.

As the towers collapsed, tons of building debris fell onto the firehouse and forced its way into it, blowing out windows and doors and causing extensive damage. Inside the firehouse, the apparatus floor was flooded with over three feet of debris and in some areas in and around the firehouse the debris from the collapse was nearly six feet deep.

5 members from the Ten House were lost:

Lieutenant Gregg Atlas, Fire-fighter Jeffrey Olsen, Fire-fighter Paul Pansini from Engine 10; Lieutenant Stephen Harrell and Fire-fighter Sean Tallon from Ladder 10.

Although it was unable to be used as a firehouse after the collapse of the towers, the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 10 nevertheless played a vital role in the daily operations at Ground Zero. During the early days of the rescue and recovery operations and even during the clean up of the site, the Ten House was used as a rest and recuperation station as well as a command post for fire department operations at the site. The $3.5 million repair project took more than two years to complete and the new Ten House was re-opened on November 5th 2003.

Below is a picture I took in 2007 of another Seagrave Truck, this time of FDNY Ladder Company 109.

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Together with FDNY Engine Company 241, Ladder 109 is based at 6630 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and is known as the “3rd Avenue Express”.

The firehouse is only a few blocks from where my good friends Mike and Char live and judging by the way I have seen them drive, I can see where they got the firehouse name from!

(Both trucks of Ladder 10 and Ladder 109 are rear-mount aerial fire trucks designed by Seagrave Fire Apparatus and each one costs about $550,000. They have two rear down-and-out stabilizers, an 8kw hydraulic generator to provide A/C power to lights or tools, a 370 horsepower Detroit Series 60 engine and a cab and body of corrosion-resistant steel).

To Write Love On Her Arms

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favourite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience.

She smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”

I would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbour, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment centre finds the wound several hours later. The centre has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humour beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.

I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes

Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.
She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favourite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment centre, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new; that He meant hope and healing in the stars.

She would ask you to remember.

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

Picture of the day

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This extraordinary image is of Sarychev Peak which is one of the most active volcanoes in Russia’s Kuril archipelago.

The picture was captured by the crew of the International Space Station 220 miles above the remote Russian island of Matua in the North Pacific.

A tale of two halfs

The much anticipated first Test of the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa kicked off in Durban earlier today at a packed Kingspark.

The Springboks blundered an early lead to let the Lions back into the match, but did enough to come away with the 26-21 win. Despite many predicting that the Boks would be rusty after a lack of match practice, they fired from the start as they charged over the line through captain John Smit, giving them the early ascendency.

Prop Beast Mtawaria put on a powerful display as he dominated English prop Phil Vickey, earning a handful of penalties, which Ruan Pienaar duly turned into points. Vickery was replaced by Adam Jones after 45 minutes, which immediately made a difference.

The first 60 minutes was all about the hosts, who powered to a 26-7 lead thanks to the Smit try, a pushover try from Heinrich Brussouw, and successful kicks from Pienaar and Francois Steyn. They took their foot off the gas though, and along with some early substitutions, nearly allowed the Lions back into the match despite the large margin.

Two tries from Tom Croft and one by Mike Phillips set up a thrilling finish as the Lions came back excellently, producing a really exciting last ten minutes. They came close to scoring on more than one occasion, with Ugo Monye being held up over the line, and then later having the ball knocked out of his arms from an excellent covering tackle by replacement flyhalf Morne Steyn.

The centre pairing of Brian O’Driscoll were, as predicted, a powerful force as they caused chaos in the Bok ranks for a large part of the match.

While South Africa almost managed to blow their strong lead, it was the Lions who had over sixty percent of the possesion throughout the match, that they probably should have, and could have, turned into points.

This meeting of rugby giants is anything but a forgone conclusion, but the Lions now have an uphill battle as they’ll need to win the next two matches to clinch the series.

(Report from RugbyDump.com)