Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Fireman Story

I had just a couple months on the job when our Engine company was called to a working fire. It was late morning, not too cold, not too hot, a perfect time of day for a fire. We were second engine in to a fire in a "taxpayer", a two story building with retail on the ground floor and living quarters above. Captain Putze was the boss, I was the cub and glued to his hip.

The Captain was an interesting guy, my first boss on the job. Not the buddy, buddy, type. He always kept to himself and didn't socialize with other firefighters. He was also nearing retirement and spent every off day golfing or in Arizona. He also had the reputation of being a hard-ass and a fireman's fireman. He had seen some serious action in his career and was well respected within the ranks. His nick name was "Digger" because he was also a mortician. Only his friends would use his nick name, I wouldn't dare.

Being second engine in, the crew laid a second line to back up the first-in crew. That left me and the captain to do search and rescue. The fire was on the second floor. We followed the first crew's line up the stairs and paused briefly before entering the room. The first engine was still advancing so we assisted with moving the hose forward. we were getting worried, they still hadn't found the fire and the place wasn't that big. They ended up going through the entire apartment passing up the fire. Our crew was still laying the second line when the Captain crawls into the room, I follow keeping in contact with his boots. The next thing you know he's gone and the room lights up. The scene has played out in my head over and over. It was beautiful, surreal and somehow peaceful. It was like someone had taken a bucket of flaming gasoline and in slow motion poured it across the room. It was coming my way. I remember the finish on the coffee table ignite, it was happening real fast yet it was in slow motion, like the movies. One of the few times I saw a fire that clear and that close. We followed the hose line in and now I was using it as a guide to back out. It was a race with the wall of fire. Just then the hose burst. The fire had burned through it, probably saving my life. It put enough of the fire out to stop it's advance. Being terribly concerned about the Captain I crawled back in following the broken hose-line to the hole and directed the spray onto the rest of the fire. It was out pretty quickly and when it was clear enough to see, me and the first crew went looking for the Captain. He was nowhere to be found. We continued to search when he came strolling in the front door. "Where'd you go Captain", he replied, "out the window", "How far down?" "Three feet, onto the roof next door". I asked him if he knew there was a roof there? "Nope, I was pleasantly surprised".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

No Place for Vanity or Comfort.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and your house is on fire, don't get dressed, run for your life. Every second counts. I'm being DEAD serious.

I used to get asked, "ever pull anybody out of a burning building?" I would reply, "dead or alive?". They didn't care but "alive" makes for a better story. Unfortunately my guy died. Male, about 40, living alone. Woke up in the middle of the night to find his house on fire. He made the mistake of trying to get dressed. He stood up to put his pants on and took one breath of the poisonous, super heated gasses and went down. I found him with one leg in his pants.

You know the movies where they show the fire fighters sling a victim over his shoulders and rush him to safety? If I had done that not only would dude be dead but so would I. Firefighters live on the floor. I was crawling when I felt him, grabbed him by both ankles and unceremoniously dragged him out of the room and down a short flight of steps to safety, his head clunking on each stair as we descended. We were met by a slew of medical professionals and whisked away in an ambulance. Found out later he didn't make it. Does it bother me? No, I did my search perfectly. Some things you don't do half ass-ed.

Then there were those that you found after the fire. I'll keep those to myself.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

THE Decade

Twelve years ago I left the Milwaukee Fire Deptartment after working there for ten great years. Just long enough for my pension to become vested. I was also tucking away money in the department's "deferred comp" system. When I joined the department I fullfilled a dream. I didn't realize at the time it would also be the vehicle to fullfilling another dream, purchasing our first restaurant. After investing every penny to our name we opened Sebastian's on January 19th, 2000. People said we were crazy.
(They were right about me anyway.)

It's been one helluva decade. We survived 9/11, the housing and banking crisis, seven sous chefs, opening a second restaurant, closing it after five years, food TV, celebrity chefs, buying and selling four homes, moving four times and becoming an empty nester. Turning 50 was kinda big as well.

Coincidently, January 19th, 2010 not only marks our ten year anniversary but the day our daughter joins us as the Private Event Coordinator and Dining Room Manager. It will be a proud day for her father and the fullfillment of yet another dream.

Friday, January 1, 2010

NYE, After Action Report

12/31/09 9:00 am

After everything is said and done and the dust has settled I declare victory. It wasn't a lopsided win but a long fought brutal battle.

What most people don't understand, including my wife and staff is how hard it is to pull a night off like NYE. We serve a fixed price four course menu. Within each course you have four choices. It's a mixture of some regular menu items and completely new dishes. The regular menu items tend to be in the salad department, I didn't want to worry about them because I knew I'd have my hands full with entrees. On a normal night most people will have only 2 or 3 courses and we'll do half as many people as we did on NYE. So we're going to increase our work load by 300% and do it with a completely new menu and no training.

Then there's forecasting. An art in itself. How many people are going to have what? With no history with this menu it's an educated guess and then you leave yourself some breathing room. I knew the filet would be the top seller but I thought the pheasant would be number two. It did'nt sell well. I mean, a boneless pheasant breast for the same price as halibut or or a small filet? I'm all over that. Lobster sold surprisingly well. Surprising because we were charging an additional eight bucks for it. But then again, where are you going to get a four course dinner that includes an eight to ten ounce tail for $56? I was surprised because people around here don't think of value, they just care about price. The citrus shrimp cocktail sold surprisingly well and luckily had just enough. We ran out on the last order. Conversely I'm sitting on a lot of fresh halibut that I'm going to have to move. I knew I over ordered on the fish but I was paranoid about running out. As for the vegetarians? We served two. I'm glad I didn't waste too much time prepping that item. The sorbet sold surprisingly well. I didn't think there would be so many takers on a 15 degree night.

The good news is we didn't have to prep in the middle of the night. If we did, we'd be toast. And thank god I had one cold app. Efficient to put out and no stove space. That single menu item may have saved the day for us. That and the soup, sold the crap out of the crab bisque as well, I will remember that in the future.

In short it's like opening a new restaurant on the busiest night of the year with a staff that has had no training. Purchasing, prepping and serving in the blind.

We pulled it it off. It wasn't pretty but we made it relatively unscathed. It was hard. Real hard. Other than substituting the soup at the last moment we didn't run out of anything. Although we had to sub the tuna on a salad because my fish company no showed. (Thanks Fortune Fish for fucking me over on NYE.) We didn't have to re-prep anything during the night either. I hate to have to pat myself on the back but the task was monumental. As challenging as anything I've ever done. (This coming from a guy who used to crawl into burning buildings) I had to micro manage each station while holding down my own. It's the only way it can be done. I don't know of anyone capable of doing what I did yesterday. I am completely drained and spent. I find I have no patience and am in a surly mood. Probably because no one recognizes the feat I accomplished. No one has a clue. I should be used to that by now.

P.S. I also managed the reservations for the night, mapped and planned seating continually for the last week trying to maximize tables without over loading the servers or kitchen and at the same time trying to hit a goal of number of guests. (We hit it.) Not an easy task in itself.