Memories of John- from Jeff Urbanik

Jeff knew John through CFCRS.  Here is what he wrote about John on his Facebook page (July 22, 2009).  I certainly enjoyed reading it and with Jeff’s permission am sharing it here.

I joined the Community Fire Co. of Rising Sun in the fall (can’t remember what month exactly) of 2001. I had already been a member of the Robert Fulton Fire Co., and had previously hung out at Station 8 with members that knew, so I was familiar with the humor and activities of a fire house during down time. I however was unfamiliar with some of the fire line officers but would learn quickly how intimidating they could be. Two officers that stick out in my mind from those days are Larry Underwood and John Smith. Larry at the time was a captain and John was a lieutenant, both playing a major role in my “pre-basic” fire class. Larry was pretty simple to get used to; John on the other hand was not. I (at first) thought John was one of the meanest officer’s I’ve ever met. There are some people that were around from those days and know me well, know that I did not care for John at first; however that would change over the years.
I’m a person that is intimidated very easily, and the way John came off did not diminish my intimidation at all. I would carry on a conversation with John, as well as ride any piece of apparatus that he was on. I found that trying to “stay cool” while not looking like an idiot in front of John was almost next to impossible. Things eventually got better and I began to get used to John as I began taking training classes and gain years of experience with the company. One memory that sticks out of my head is; John and I were at the fire house one evening, and we were talking about either my Firefighter 1 or Firefighter 2 class. I’ve always hated ground ladders (yeah, probably NOT the thing to hate being a firefighter), and I remember telling him I was having trouble with putting up (we call it “throwing”) the 35 foot ladders (I’m pretty sure it was that length of ladder). Well, the next thing I know, John and I are out on the front fire house apron throwing ground ladders.
I grew to learn that John was all about training and doing the job right…John wasn’t trying to be mean at anyway (even though that’s how he came off at first), John was just trying to help us become better at what we do. The motto for our ladder truck is, “Best of the Best.” The way I look at it is John was just seeing that we were trained and able to operate at the “Best of the best” caliber. John’s dedication through leadership and mentoring is evident today, as there are members that I’ve gained experience with, that are now officers.
If not for John Smith, the Community Fire Co. of Rising Sun, MD would not have the tools and equipment we have today. Between the years of 2003 and 2004 (through the FEMA grants) John brought in the company over $900,000 of equipment. Equipment included (but not limited to): New self contained breathing apparatus, new structural turnout gear, OSHA compliant respirator fit-testing kit, and KIDDE mobile-live training trailer. John has also played a role in obtaining our ladder truck, rescue truck, as well as the engine that is stationed in Calvert. John has also played a role in numerous committees of the company. There is just so much to be said about John.
Whether we are using the burn trailer for a pre-basic class, putting on our turnout gear, strapping an SCBA on our backs, or responding to an emergency, somehow John has played a part in making it possible. John will never be forgotten and will be missed.

Jeff, thanks for sharing your memories of John with us.  If anybody else would like to, please let me know or shoot me an e-mail at maryksmith “at” I’m working to compile memories of John for Nathaniel, since he won’t have his own memories of his father.

Jeff’s right… John could be intimidating and John was often all business- especially at the volunteer firehouse.  He wasn’t going to go out of his way to be nice- no need for small talk.  Not that he was a dick, he just had his certain way.  Most couples share their day was and how work went.  99% of the time, John had no interest.  If he wanted to know, he’d ask.  It took me a while to understand that.

I’d love to hear about his day at work, but he didn’t often share, although, every once in while, if he’d had an exciting call or eventful day, he couldn’t wait to share. At the same time, most of the time he’d listen to, and even somewhat retain, me rambling about my equine passions.

John pretty much made it clear that he had goals in his life and if I was interested in being there with him, I could.  If I wasn’t, then no skin off his back.  His life would go on.  He softened a lot when he became a dad– they say parenthood changes you- and it does.

A lot of people had a hard time reading John.  He had a sense of humor that required intelligence to get.  In social situations, he was often pretty quiet (like I said… he wasn’t a fan of small talk) and often when he’d speak he’d have a zinger.  I loved his sense of humor and I’ve learned from the best on how to become a talented smart ass!  I can’t tell you how much I miss his sense of humor.

John was one of the smartest people that I know, but yet he didn’t have a college degree.  He loved learning… especially about firefighting and cycling, but about history, politics, and science.  John also an uncommon level of common sense.  He’d get irritated when people didn’t have common sense… it just made sense to him to do things a certain way.  I’ve got to say… I love somebody with common sense… it’s becoming more of a rarity these days.

When it came to the firehouse John was pretty much all business.  I remember walking through Station 8 with him… he had a goal and a purpose to be there and he wasn’t there to chit chat or hang around (now, back in the day, when he was a kid, I assume he did his share of hanging out, but that was before my time).  Pretty much you had to prove you were worth your salt to John.  You had to be a damn good firefighter to get John’s nod of approval.  I think Jeff really sums it up by saying “best of the best.”  John expected nothing less of people…  he also had those same high expectations for himself.

I can’t tell you the number of times he’d complain about people (usually referred to as “kids”) who (in his opinion) “shouldn’t be there” that were there.  Firefighting is something where you put your life on the line and you have to have people who are dependable, skilled, and knowledgeable.  Unfortunately, when it comes to a volunteer house there are often people who are attracted to the “firefighter image.”  In a paid department those people can and should be culled, but in a volunteer environment, it’s difficult to say “we don’t need you” or “we don’t want you.”

John would bend over backwards to help train somebody if they were interested.  I remember him tirelessly working with an individual who just didn’t get it, but at the time, was interested in trying to pass his class.  John didn’t think the person had any business being there, but as long as that particular kid was interested in learning, John would help.  In the long run, the  individual ended up leaving the fire company which was probably best for all involved.  Bottom line… if you were interested, John would help you… even if he didn’t like you.  On the flip side, John could also be friends with people, but think they sucked as a firefighter.  John had some friends who were firefighters and they enjoyed talking about firefighting, but he had the ability to separate the two.

John LOVED training.  He was so excited to get his instructors credentials and so looked forward to teaching at the AFD academy.  If John had lived to a ripe old age, I think he would have done something great (not necessarily on a large scale- possibly just for AFD, but he would have been awesome)  in some area of training.  I half wonder if one reason that John was so devoted to training was because somebody took an interest in helping him when he was “just a kid.”

Back when John himself was just a “kid” he had a fear of heights.  Not a good quality to have in a firefighter.  John wanted to be a firefighter.  He worked to overcome his fear.  He told me stories about throwing ladders on the side of his parents house and working past his fear.  At his services Chief Karl Reichenbach even mentioned how John worked to overcome his fear.  If John put his mind to something, he was going to achieve it… be it firefighting, getting a new lawnmower, building a house, buying Ravens tickets, or what have you.  John was methodical and meticulous, and patient.  He’d have a logical well thought, well researched reason for wanting something and I just couldn’t say, “No.”

If cancer could have been beat by willpower, intelligence, &/or common sense, John would have kicked it’s sorry ass in no time!

About Mary K. Smith

I was widowed in July 2009, when I lost my beloved husband, John, to melanoma. Cancer SUCKS. We have a young son who was just a year old when his father died. I live on a small farm in Maryland which is home to horses, cats, and a dog. I started this blog as a way for me to heal, a way to remember my husband, and eventually I'd like to share it with our son so he can see the love that his father had for him, the love that we had for each other, what a great person his father was, and how hard his father fought to live.
This entry was posted in Annapolis Fire Department, Community Fire Company of Rising Sun, Firefighting, Friends, Horses, Nathaniel, Pre-stage IV and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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