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March 01, 2016 | NATIONAL Gordon Wren, Correspondent

A generation or two ago, it seems like every region had a few firefighters who earned the nickname "Smokey." In our county, I can recall three veteran firefighters whose nicknames became Smokey (or Smoky); and in many cases, people had no idea what their first names were since they were only referred to by their nickname. Most of these "Smokeys earned their Smokey titles in the 1930's, 1940's, 1950's, and into the 1960's. Their individual legends were achieved by their unusual ability to function in heavy smoke filled conditions without any type of respiratory protection for prolonged periods of time. Frequently, they would exit the building showing no effects from what they called back then a "feed" of heavy smoke. Interestingly, the three I am thinking of all lived well into their 80's. Many of the Smokeys were looked up to.

There is another nickname that gets attached to some firefighters that is not as prestigious -- "wrong way." These individuals, it appears, have a habit of driving their Chief's car or fire apparatus to the wrong address for emergencies on a fairly regular basis -- enough so to earn the nickname. This can happen to any of us. Years ago, I remember being awakened by our fire tones at 3 a.m. for a reported structure fire on Dwight Avenue. I jumped into my vehicle and proceeded to Eisenhower Avenue (as in President Dwight Eisenhower.) I arrived at the scene on Eisenhower Avenue, had the microphone in my hand and was just about to call dispatch, asking them how they received the call, when the dispatcher called to inform me that the police department was on the scene reporting a working structure fire at the corner of Dwight and Mallory. A 10,000 watt light bulb went off in my little brain as I proceeded the two miles to the right location.

I did not go the wrong way enough to earn the nickname, and it happens much less now in the computer age.

The fire service does seem to love putting nicknames on each other. One of our larger firefighters at 6'3" and 250 lbs. is nicknamed "Mongo" after the character in the movie "Blazing Saddles." If you want a wall taken down quickly or a door taken without forcible entry tools, Mongo is your man!

Some of the more unique firefighter nicknames I am aware of are: the "Nozzle Twins" - identical twins who fought many fires on a hand line, "27-Tanker" - a very large firefighter, "Preacher" - who gave sermons to the young firefighters on anything and everything, "Beans" - for obvious reasons, "Chubby" - for obvious reasons, "Dinky" - don't want to know, "Killer Kain" - liked to take on the world after having a few, and many I never understood: "Fuzzy," "Gutch," "Monk," "Scootch," "Bird," and many more.

Many of these firefighters seem happy with these nicknames and have the name stitched into their fire department jackets, shirts, etc. It seems that most are given with friendship and respect.

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Gordon WrenCorrespondent

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