This article is being posted, with permission from the author Jake Rixner
In everyone’s career, things are said or done that make the “light bulb turn on”. This article was one of the things that I read early in my career that had a tremendous impact on me. Immediately after reading it, I knew I had to be a member of the 30% Club, that a 30 percenter was the type of fireman I wanted to be. Though I ‘ve had this article tucked away for a long time, now seems like a great time to talk about some good ‘ol hard-nosed firefighting… enjoy!
The 30% Club, by Jake Rixner
“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. 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.
What 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.
Upon finding the fire, the pipe is opened and the steam seams to find every opening in your clothing, making an 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 to 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 percent club.
How 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 Washington 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.
Related Posts/ Articles:
“It’s Not Me… It’s You!“, SafeFirefighter.com, December 2009
“What It Takes To Be Aggressive”, SafeFirefighter.com, July 2010
“We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident“, FireServiceWarrior.com, December 2010