OCONOMOWOC - Sights
and smells of soot, smoke, flames and charred furnishings will forever be
with Rick Ornberg. After more than a quarter-century of fighting fires
full time, how could they not?
Ornberg started his
career with the Des Plaines (Ill.) Fire Department in 1971, literally
hanging onto the back of a fire engine as it weaved its way through
traffic on its way to his first fire scene. It wouldn’t end until 26
years later, but by then, he and firefighters everywhere had seen more
changes in their departments than in the previous 100 years combined.
“I wanted to put
down my firefighting experiences from start to finish and write about all
of the different facets of a fire service career,” said Ornberg, author
of “10-24: A Firefighter Looks Back” and an Oconomowoc-area resident
the past eight years.
The book is more than
chapter after chapter of flames and smoke destroying one house after
First, Ornberg is an
accomplished writer, having run a successful public relations business and
written extensively for Firehouse magazine and other trade publications.
His words convey the reader to the scene, where the imagination takes over
and you can see yourself there.
Second, Ornberg offers
insights into how firefighting changed during his career, which ran from
1971 to 1996. He touches on training, equipment, paramedics and EMTs,
women joining the department and more.
Finally, the author
shares a few pieces of his previously published works on the crash of
American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979, the deadliest aviation accident to
happen on American soil, and the Chicago firefighters strike of 1980.
“I think it will
appeal to the general public as well as firefighters and paramedics,”
Ornberg said. “My favorite story in the book is the first chapter,
‘Fire at 3 a.m.’ It sets the stage for the entire book.”
Ironically, it was a
Lucky Strike cigarette that first exposed Ornberg to the larger-than-life
firefighters who appeared fearless as they entered a burning home. At age
4, he noticed the smoke curling from under his parents’ bedroom door and
ran down the stairs, yelling, “Mommy, moke! Mommy, moke!”
contained the damage to the upstairs, with the exception of some water
running from the hoses down the steps and the smell of charred wood still
in the air. As far as he recollects, the home was repaired and life
resumed its normal pace. But, still in the back of his mind, the memory
Oconomowoc Deputy Fire
Chief Glenn Leidel said the book offers a realistic view of what a
firefighter goes through in his career.
“I think it really
accurately portrays what being a firefighter is all about,” he said.
“He does a nice job of covering the good and the bad, the highs and the
lows, and the satisfaction that comes with doing a very difficult job, and
the toll it can (have) on people doing the job.”
Any book on
firefighting wouldn’t be complete without a few words on post traumatic
stress disorder and the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, even if the attack were
a few years after Ornberg’s retirement from the force. Close calls on
the job are also detailed.
with that many years is going to have those stories, being trapped inside
a residence without an air pack,” he said. “It caused some
realizations to come to me about myself, and again, the side effects.”
The book’s title
comes from the radio code that means, “Assignment completed; ready for
Above all, the book
offers unique insights and reflections on a career that offers a special
bonding experience among firefighters. Whether from a volunteer department
or a full-time service, whether in a small town or a large metropolitan
city, sometimes even from one precinct to another, the men and women may
rib each other, but when it comes down to it, they will all put their
lives on the line for each other - and for us.