Monday, March 25, 2013

they called him "beauty"...and other fire nicknames

It's a tricky thing, a nickname.  For the most part, you can't just show up at a new job demanding to be called something other than your given name.  There is usually backlash.  People either don't use it, or add something unintended to it, a rhyme perhaps, or a reference to an act of buffoonery committed by you.  Ideally, nicknames should precede you, or be bestowed upon you.  Extra points if your nickname is prefaced by "The."

Firefighters seem especially fond of nicknames.  The most obvious are based on last names (this is how "Beauty" got his; it was a partial version of his name.  Luckily he was too big to mess with).  Others are quickly earned through a specific incident.  "Bear Bait" was visited by bears on fires too many times for it to be a coincidence, we believed.   "Magellan" got lost once in the woods.  "Tomcat" liked the ladies.  "Bucket Boy" came into being when a co-worker questioned whether helicopter buckets of water were being manifested correctly.  He hasn't fought fire in 10 years, but he still announces, "this is Bucket Boy," when he calls.  Then there were the legendary "Tundra Babes", three of us who spent three weeks on the fireline without a shower.  To this day, the "Tundra Babes" are remembered fondly by those who were there. 

Unbeknownst to him, an excitable division supervisor trainee became known as "Turbo".  On the same fire, qualified division supervisor Bob became "Boboon", a mix of his name and "buffoon", but this was not that mean.  He didn't know how to use a compass, and remained confused about the wind direction for days.  Finally, he was banished to patrol a road that had been burned days ago.

On one incident, I was known as "Fuzzy Bunny," which morphed from "Mama Rabbit."  With me were "Hard Charger" and "Mad Philly" (he was from Philadelphia).  Our purple truck, which started honking in the middle of the night for no reason, was called, of course, "Barney", or "Club Barney", if techno music was on.

Pilots seem to attract nicknames on a regular basis.  One helibase had a surfeit of Joes, so "Hollywood Joe" (he had been in some movies) and "Low Joe" (who constantly complained about how little he was paid) came into being.  "Whopper Bob" was a big guy who liked the sound of rotors turning.  A pilot with the name of Leroy Brown inevitably attracted the prefix "Bad" and a new version of the song.

A nickname can be fun or a responsibility (if you are a man who has been called "Big Sexy", you can't just let yourself go).  Sometimes they follow you for a long time.  Just ask someone who knew the "Tundra Babes" about 15 years ago.  "Tundra Babes rule!" they will probably say, even now.

The tundra babes, acting crazy.



  1. Still babes...tundra, mountain or elsewhere!

  2. Yes, babes. But is your head on backwards?

  3. And don't forget that when you get a "the" in front of your nickname, you are there. Nothing left to prove after that.


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