Do firefighters wear the same thing under their bunker gear as Scotsmen do under their kilts?

I’ve learned over the years that  Firefighters and Racecar drivers are a superstitious lot…  I’ve got a pair of “lucky socks”   that I wear on nearly every would gross you out to know more about the socks so this story  isn’t about them…… it’s about my “lucky sweats” … In case you  don’t know that big bulky  gear that you see firefighters wearing  on calls is  called bunker gear or turnout gear… bunks  for short…. But this  story begins  long before I became a firefighter  12 years ago….  It begins in  1990.  I  was in the Navy, Stationed  at a remote outpost in  Northwestern Australia, a joint US and Aussie Naval communications station only about 300  people there   75% American/ 25% Australian Navy  … well as most of you know  Old Saddam decided that year to invade his neighbors in Kuwait….  Well I put in  what’s called a “request chit”   requesting a transfer to the  coalition forces, to work in  communications vans in  “ very Southern Turkey” ..I still have that “chit” around somewhere and  I ended up  getting an award for it, but again not part of the story…  but  the Executive Officer  “respectfully”  denied y request, stating that my services were critical to the  mission  and the possible war to come  doing what I was doing  there in BFE…or BFA  really…. Well as much as I loved Australia and  wanted to stay, I wanted more to serve more directly in the “War”  of my generation… so in 1991 when    the US really got involved  I tried again and  was successful!! I’d served my time in  what I now consider to be paradise.. it was time to go to hell and being   in my 20’s and  fit as a fiddle, ( I’d been preparing for SEAL  training with  a buddy for  the past year)  I was heading where I  thought I could  do  my best for the world…..I like to think that’s what I was thinking back then, but  I was really just  full of  bravado and testosterone and wanted to stand up  for the underdog (Kuwait)  and kick some  butt….  So off I went for some additional training and  then deployment……. Training went great…. I was pumped and ready to go.  A buddy and I drove up from  our training in San Diego  to  Naval Station Bremerton, Washington to meet our transport… well crap…what do they say  about the best laid plans?? Something happened to our  way there…. Well shucks  ( remember I was a Sailor so that wasn’t  my really choice of  words….) …I wanted to go to war… instead we ended up stuck in  Bremerton working and assigned temporary duty to  do general work around the place..which really translated to  hurry up and wait….. I don’t remember how it all went down  but we ended up  going to  Thailand then  Guam  trying to catch up to our unit… “Stuff happens” , I ended up  getting onboard the USS Camden (AOE-2)  which was a fast combat support ship.. the only  “supply type” ship to go into combat…  it carried ammunition, fuel and supplies  and was outfitted with sea-sparrow missiles, phalanx (CIWS)  defense system etc…  and  “ I can neither confirm nor deny the  presence or absence of nuclear weapons aboard the USS Camden, it is not US  Policy to  routinely deploy nuclear weapons onboard our ships, aircraft or attack submarines”…..yeah I still remember that word for word…loose lips sink ships  dontcha know…. So I’m onboard this mighty  vessel of the US Navy.  It was built on a Battleships Keel , so the same Keel  as  say the USS Arizona, or  Missouri…the same engines…  but weighing less with  about half as many  sailors onboard to man her.  Or primary mission  was to provide, in combat,  underway replenishment better known to  us as unrep and  vert rep – vert being vertical, we carried  an airborne contingent of  helicopters,  we delivered things like Jet fuel and  weaponry food and supplies to the other ships in our battle group….  Yes we were a floating bomb and  nice fat  target…  Her Nickname was  “The Mighty Pachyderm of the Pacific”  and when we were not in actual combat ( I remember this blaring so many times during 1991-1994 over the 1MC…General Quarters, General Quarters all hands man you’re your battle stations, up and forward to starboard, down and aft to port, set condition zebra throughout the ship, usually for drill but a few times for real….)….but when we weren’t in combat and we were doing unreps  they  would play the Henry Mancini song “Baby Elephant Walk ” to  the point that you wanted to vomit anytime you ever heard that song…. To this day that song  makes me sick lol…. But I still  find myself  whistling it ..if you’re not  familiar with it,  take a listen here…    ONLY  cool thing about that song is that it was originally made in 1961 for the movie  Hatari! With The Duke (John Wayne for you young-uns)….so I was Ok with it… you may be thinking  “WOW Mike, you’ve really strayed off track here.. I started  reading this story because you lured me in talking about firemen and  stuff”….. well I’m getting there ….. so I’ll try and  get to the point… I spent 3 years or so  serving on that ship… I never did make it to “Southern Turkey”  but did have some fun,  and sadly we did lose some shipmates, I witnessed a  terrible  helicopter crash  during  a Vertrep  where 4 of our shipmates were lost at sea, on our way home from the Gulf….we’d made it safely and were near the  historic Wake Island,  heading for Hawaii for an R&R stop  on our way home when it happened….I was on the signal bridge,  vertreps never got old…  they were exciting..  but on that day in August of ’91  it was a tragic day.. here’s the “official  report” On 15 August 1991 Four airmen from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 11 (HC-11 “Gunbearers”) are missing and presumed dead after their helicopter crashed while resupplying ships in the Pacific Ocean near Wake Island, the Navy announced. The crewmen of the ill-fated CH-46 Sea Knight were identified as Lt. Eric W. Allison, 26, of Coronado; Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth D. Pickens, 24, of Clairemont; Airman William A. Jackson, 20, of San Diego, and Petty Officer 1st Class Johnny L. Caulder Jr., 28, of Spring Valley. The Sea Knight, operating from the fast combat support ship Camden, crashed Wednesday; search efforts were abandoned about 24 hours later, said Lt. Ken Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The cause of the accident, which occurred about 100 miles east of Wake Island, is under investigation, Ross said. Investigators will look at recorded radio transmissions from the helicopter and interview ship crewmen who witnessed the crash. Two ships were close by when the aircraft dropped into the water, he said. Two helicopters were immediately launched for an air search, and the ships in the area launched whaleboats to assist in the search. The missing airmen were members of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 11 at North Island Naval Air Station, said Fred Wilson, a spokesman for the air station. The Camden was deployed to resupply the aircraft carrier Nimitz and its support ships, which were returning to the U.S. from duty in the Persian Gulf.


Shipmates Lt. Eric W. Allison, Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth D. Pickens, Airman William A. Jackson, Petty Officer 1st Class Johnny L. Caulder Jr:

I thank you for your service and for making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, you  are not forgotten and we are forever in your debt.


Back to the story at hand now that you are all sad and stuff…  but those guys  deserve a “shout out”  don’t you think?  Well it doesn’t matter what you think, they  are forever in my heart and seared into my  brain  watching that crash, it really was like  you hear… time slowed down, seconds seemed like hours I could see their  faces as the rotor shattered and went up and the body of the  Sea knight went down to the water at that point time sped up and they were gone too soon…. We were coming home from war for crying out loud… that wasn’t supposed to happen.


So that  gives  you a glimpse into  my past….  And gets us to the matter at hand,  (one of my)  “superstitions” as a  Firefighter…. So while onboard the Camden I  had a  pair of sweats, shirt and  pants… the shirt I still have somewhere, not even close to fitting me….  After about 1996 lol…. But the pants, well they are sweat pants, Hanes, Made in America….. .stretchy, elastic, well built….   Some of you have always wondered what   Scotsmen wear under their kilts… and also what  firefighters wear under their bunks….  Well  it’s not the same I’ll tell you that 🙂  on occasion I just have on shorts or boxers  depending on the time and type of the call and time of the  day/night year….….  But  I keep  my “USS Camden” Sweats in my bunks at rest  and for the vast majority of the calls I go on, I wear them ..especially when it’s a “serious”  calls , don’t  get me  wrong all calls are “serious”  but some  are more serious  than others… it’s those ones that I “need” my Camden Pants for…. So for the last 12 years  on  the majority of calls  I am wearing my USS Camden  sweats….that was until last night…..I was at the fire station for an Officer’s  meeting….we wrapped it up a little  early  (always an ominous sign) and was heading home,  I walked in the door and the pager goes off…. it’s a “serious” call, very serious….  That golden hour type of trauma  call ( where you have 1 hour to get the patient into surgery or they are dead, typically)… a “Camden”  pants call for sure! (any my lucky socks too) …so I jump into my Camden pants, they feel a little  odd…. But I ignore it and jump in my socks and bunks, out to the jeep ( command car), fire it up, tell dispatch I’m responding on the radio , hit the lights and pull out….  What no siren you say? Just wait a minute…’s 9:30 PM ….in a residential area… I wait to hit the siren until I get out closer to the  main now we’re on the road and out of the residential school night area……, hit the siren!!! Oops a red stop light….. not any more 🙂 accelerate and watch the kind drivers allow me the right of way…approaching an  intersection, change the alert tone on the siren to warn oncoming  traffic…settle in for the code run…hmm my pants still  feel strange like they are on wrong under my bunks…oh well focus on  driving… I  arrive  on location, weave through the police cars, fire engines,  rescue trucks aid cars etc… find a place to park…… tell dispatch I’m there on  the radio.. jump out, through on the  Red helmet and the  bunker coat  walk over to  the scene……walking feels a little odd…something not right with my  britches….oh well got a job to do…focus… I can’t go into details about the  call or anything like that but it’s very serious, someone else has already taken command  so  being an EMT and a Sr.  Officer, on this particular call I’m pretty free to do what I feel is needed.  I see quickly what that is and I jump on,  direct patient care, especially trauma is what I  most enjoy about Emergency Medicine…so I’m in there “getting dirty” doing the  ABC’s and  C-spine immobilization etc….still all the while  feeling that something  below my waist just isn’t  right….but I have a patient to treat………patient gets transferred to  the  Medic Unit on  off to the  trauma center……I do my paperwork and yep still have that  “awkwardness feeling in my drawers”….I can tell that the  waistband  of the sweats is down  around my thighs…and I can feel  the  inside of the bunks down my left leg instead of  my sweats…  hmmm  what have I done?? I can’t really   undo my bunker pants and  “check it out”  on scene….. so whatever nothing I can do about it now except be  uncomfortable…. So we wrap up  the call and turn the scene over to the  Cops…. And I head back  home…… once home I’m finally able to figure out what the heck  I had done “down below”… if you can picture this I’m sorry…I had managed to  put my left leg through what used to be a “medium” sized hole in the  crotch  region of the  sweats, making the hole  much bigger… this also  affected the  elastic band that  finally gave up the ghost after over 20 years…. So the “top” of the pants had  fallen down around the top of my thighs…. Thankfully I did have my bunks on or they would have been around my ankles  except for the left leg that  was punched through……. Thankfully though the “Lucky”  Camden Pants  served me well for over 20 years and  on this call they did their job of  seeing the patient through to  survival  (at least until we handed the patient of, but I’m  fairly certain  permanent  survival and a normal life)  but sadly they  must  now be retired….  What do we do when a lucky charm, or a talisman has passed it’s  usefulness?  Well I don’t know about y’all  but I find a new one 🙂  so now I’m  at a decision point as to what my new “lucky” pants are  that I stage with my bunker gear….  I have some old Dale Sr. pj pants… but they are for  Daytona 500 Day only …I don’t want to use them for more than that,  they need to  last forever… I have a pair of “jammie” pants that have little leprechauns on them   and they remind me of my engagement to my beautiful  wife  on  St. Patty’s  Day in 2007, so those  seem pretty darn lucky to me…. I think  that’s the  choice… it makes total sense  to me….pants that remind me that I’m so lucky to have  such a wonderful wife and family, that I’m married to an amazing woman who makes me a better man…. That can’t be wrong……

It’s sad to say goodbye to my Camden pants, but they aren’t going anywhere….just not going to be “in-service” any longer….I have to figure out what to do with them now…. Maybe cut the logo out and make a flag out of it…..who knows ….but  farewell  USS Camden pants you’ve been around the world, you’ve see war and peace, you’ve seen  fire and ice,  blood, sweat and many tears and other  much less pleasant bodily fluids ( some of them maybe even mine…..) and made it through relatively unscathed, until  your last day  of service to me, July 31st, 2012 where my  large foot  in a rush to get to a call  ended your long and  illustrious  career. Thank you Hanes  and the Made in the USA product that served  me, and in return both my country and my community  for over 20 years.

Hello Lucky Leprechaun Pants! Welcome to the  Fire Service! You’re in for quite the ride,  let’s see how you  stand the heat, you’re made in Indonesia so I don’t expect you to last that long, but  maybe your sentimental value will  carry you through, only  time will tell….


So now you  know….. do  firefighters  wear the same thing as Scotsmen  under their gear?…not this one…..

A Vertrep from the USS Camden(AOE-2) in 1991

The Camden’s Bow and her Sea Sparrow Missiles.1991/1992

Welcome to the team new Lucky pants… hope you can stand the heat!!

2 thoughts on “Do firefighters wear the same thing under their bunker gear as Scotsmen do under their kilts?

  1. Hey there shipmate. What was your rate? I am a retired CTO1(SW). Possibly a RM? We were in the Gulf together in 91. Princeton was the VLS Ticonderoga class of our BG (Ranger). I was on Valley Forge (CG50). We replace Princeton after she hit the mine (8 miles off Kuwait – playing forward AAW). Found 5 floaters on our way up there. I wasn’t thrilled we got that privledge. Ha Ha. Anyway, I’m also named Mikey as a nickname so I couldn’t resist (being a CTO and able to talk with my fingers better than my mouth – Ha Ha). Thanks for your service shipmate, then and now as you continue with your devotion as a Fire Fighter! CUL, Mikey B.

    • Hi Mike, Pleased to virtually meet you! yes I was an RM and an MAA (got out as an RM2, made E-5 3 times LOL). I was with the USS Nimitz BG ( Battle Group Bravo) in the gulf in ’91. Glad you made it back, thank you for your service!!

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