I'm not sure if I'm one of a kind, but I'm Cotton and this is me

I remember easing out of a nap on a nice couch next to a gorgeous girl, while the ending credits of Entourage played “Lucky Man” by The Verve; the warm 2pm sun creeping through blinds on a perfect spring day during the second semester of college and having a feeling the whole world was right. This was not just a fleeting moment but just a continuum of a honest upcoming in the world.

I was at a fantastic University, doing great in school; professors grooming me for what was next in my life. Let me just say - things were right; when one day some misguided soul busted into our lecture hall with a shotgun and several handguns and opened up on us. It was at this point, my easy life of graduating with my degree, landing a solid job, getting a family and taking vacations became unimportant to me.

I clearly remember booking it from the building, jumping in my car and high-tailing it back to my campus apartment and frantically waiting for my friends to get back. One by one, as they came back it was the fantastic to see one, but it’s like “thank God Ted made it, but when is Sal going to show up?”

The parties, straight A’s, fraternity, all melted away. Life - what I was going to make of it became important to me.

Within the week I went to the fire house who was first due to the shooting to thank them. A fireman asked me “what’s important to you?” I told the blue shirt, “I want serve people before myself.” That shift hooked me up with plan. Not only did graduate with my bachelors degree, but was a nationally registered EMT and certified State Firefighter running one a major city engine company.

During my time I became a Nationally Registered Paramedic, worked up to a squad company. Of course, my crew saved some people, but we also lost some people who were trusted to my care. Needless to say there was a fair amount of tragedy that came along with the gig. My life in the fire service went from 0 to 100 real quick.

What an interesting dichotomy - living this “nirvana” experience since high school, sheltered from tragedy in college, being tested on derivatives - to being covered in blood while attempting to keep an exsanguinating stabbing victim from suffocating on his own blood alive long along enough for an ED doc to have a viable chance to save this guy - and everything in between. What the fuck…

To keep my mind off this, I started fixing the computers around the firehouse and on the rigs. The chiefs and council started coming to me with technology consulting questions. Before I knew it we had made major changes from within the department to save the municipality money. We starting getting awards from the state for our systems. Chief awarded me two certificates of merit for technology: one for a web application I build and another which our EMS region adopted and led to faster response times which was and continued to be documented as reason for the quality of response times on code 3 calls.

My success came, while the other firemen sat in the lazy boys after 5pm watching hockey - I was busy reading textbooks on becoming a fullstack dev. My application spread through the whole department and to surrounding departments. I met top fire chiefs, men of honor, and people who I am humbled to know. They all believed in my mission.

One day a university approached me offering me a Jr. Systems Admin position. The sysadmin opportunity where everything is command line, write web applications, host email servers, and all the fun things an enterprise admin handles. This was a tough tough choice. But for the two past two years I’ve been a sysadmin - moving from a jr to the sysadmin for a campus with 4 locations in 2 states. Everything I’ve ever learning is being put to the test right now. Linux, automation, programming, troubleshooting, prioritizing, and composure. When I say I’m the admin I mean the infrastructure is mine .

However, I am having a hard time adjusting. Look I’m fucked up from the fire service - not because I’ve dug broken bodies of children out of cars, but because I’m used to sitting at the dinner table every 3rd day with people who really are the people who have save kids from burning buildings, like no shit heroes - most with high school degrees, but who earned “stripes.” Like I said men of Honor. However, it’s tough to give respect to someone who has earned “wall paper”, but never changed the world, but demands the respect I give my Lt.

This is enough rambling. Hi, I’m cotton - I’m a self taught sysadmin who’s delivered a couple kids, seen some of the most ridiculous and tragic things, has trouble spelling, absolutely loves Linux, keyboard monkey, an anonymous member of this great community and struggling to deal with life after duty, honor, tradition; pride and ownership…

I wished that shitbag would have just popped himself at home instead of brining it to us - I’d probably be a successful director by now. HA!

As Gump would say - that’s all I have to say about that.


I wont lie I felt lazy reading it all but here’s a like for effort. ( will read later )

Hey @anon5644329 - don’t sweat it. I’ll save you the time here’s the tl;dr

As Chief Van Dorpe so eloquently states culture is who shapes who you are. The fire service molded me into the person I am today.

It’s hard to relate to people cut from a different cloth and I wished the events that led me to fire service never occurred so I could be more in tune with civilians.

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Greetings and salutations. I confess to having read the entirety of your dissertation, but admittedly, I’m too lazy to give my own in reply.

That is a heck of a career summary. I am glad that your world outlook is still somewhat positive, in regard to your ability to value what you can do to contribute to that better one (world).

Nice to meet you.:slightly_smiling_face:

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I always wondered why your avi was a penguin in a fireman’s suit.

And I must say that in my eyes you are the most interesting man in the world. It’s pretty to cool to have someone like you on the forum, thank you for sharing your story.

And thanks for serving the community, both IRL and online.

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So within 2 years I went from jr sysadmin to admin to taking the system engineers desk. This all means I have my own office now.

There was a screw sticking out of the wall so I hung my fire helmet on it for decoration. I’ve never made it a big deal I was a firefighter where I work so most people think I’m simply a tech nerd (true).

The admin assistant came in and asked about my lid on the wall. She said she was involved in a fatal accident where a drunk driver hit her and killed two of her friends.

She said “when the fire department got there and got me to out the car I felt safe.” You hear that “safe.” That almost killed me to hear.

You see - there was a guy in a bad wreck that I helped extricate. His injuries were so bad the Lt wanted me to ride with the medic crew to the hospital as a 3rd on the medic. Anyways this guy was busted up, his scalp pealed off so you could see cranium, not the best day of his life.

Anyways, so I wheel this guy into the trauma room and I’m going to leave to help clean the medic and the guys like “hey don’t leave! I feel safe when you’re around.”

Not to be a dick, but at the time I had built up a barrier where his words meant nothing to me. Almost like “empty words;” they held no value. I can’t explain it - not that he’s lying but it’s like all the “thank you so much for you do” shit we’d get. To me it was “blah blah blah, we’re supposed to say this because it’s what we’re supposed to say to firemen” bullshit. You just shut yourself off from civilians - disconnect.

It’s like - thank me for what? You have no idea what I do. You may think you do, but you don’t. I can’t tell you how many bullet holes I’ve seen in people. How about show
codes? You ever heard of those? This isnt Hollywood shit - real life is sad, disgusting, brutal, tragic and very very not sexy.

Anyways, that’s the crumudgend me. But I heard admin assistant say that and then think back to that guy and maybe he was being honest. Maybe “the fireman” - me -made him feel like he was going to be okay. Maybe I had that affect on people.

Maybe bailing on the service may have been a mistake. Maybe the community lost a good asset. I’m not going to say I was the greatest fireman; however I promise you if you were in a shitty spot - you’d want me in the responding rig because No matter the circumstances I’m coming to for you and I’m keep coming until I get you to safety.

Maybe there was a reason my Lt was furious when I left.

Maybe all along I didn’t have the right perspective. Maybe it was a bad decision to leave - I was good at it - I just stopped believing in it. Anyways we’re all people and we all make choices. You just gotta live with them.

Hasta la pasta mi amigos.


My only interaction with the fire department was inspections or very rare false alarm because the fire alarm wasn’t in test with central station :yum:

I can’t begin to empathize with your experience, but its good to talk about things that disturb you. If you hold that shit in it will inevitability take your mind to dark places.

Isn’t there some good characteristics or skills you’ve developed from being a firefighter?

Anyway nice to hear you’ve made it into a nice position (sounds like). Sorry if I misread your posts, lot to read.

Have you ever thought about going back?

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A colleague of mine is a Vietnam combat veteran and retired cop - needless to say he “gets it.” We had a conversation a few days ago:

Bad news - it turns out it never goes away.
Good news - he’s survived to be old and been very successful.

@FaunCB Too late to go back, now; I’m on a new path.

@SudoSaibot Yes. I am now very mechanically inclined, respectful, tolerant, and many other things.

I struggle to understanding people. They want to be thankful.

Ok I respect that, but if you really, really give a shit about us and our wellness get all your thankful buddies together and flood the block on the west side of Chicago. Shut it down. Seriously! Not kidding.

They’ll run heroine cut with elephant tranquilizer to serve to serious, hardcore dope fiends. Then some dumbass lightweight comes out and gets ahold of it, shoots it and now we’re on scenes where a mom found her kid dead on the fucking bathroom floor.

A good corner’s gotta bring three quarters of million IN CASH a year. A decent corner’s probably a quarter million. When people want to “move in” - you can’t believe what they’ll do to another person.

And then there’s the simple shit - Look out for your friends. Try to keep them from doing stupid shit. Take keys from drunk people. Make people buckle up. Keep an eye out for them- reallybhave their backs.

A lot of this stuff is really unnecessary or preventable.

Whatever it’s a waste to keep going this isn’t going to resolve anything but get me all riled up.


Btw - my name, cotton, is a very crude slang term for an attack line used by an engine company. Attack lines (fire hose) is wrapped in a Cotten jacket.

So you may hear a very salty, first-on scene lt say on the radio - “Engine 6’s on scene with fully involved two story residential dwelling. We’re dropping cotton and going to work.”

In other words, “6 has arrived at the scene we can confirm a house is on fire and we’re deploying an attack line to prepare to attack the fire.”

Not that matters but that’s where and why I’m “cotton.”