Second Annual “Firefest 2016!” Saturday, June 4, 2016 in Downtown Dallas will be a Fun Family Event
Rett Blankenship knew he wanted to be a firefighter even before he graduated from high school.
Born in Methodist Hospital just south of downtown Dallas, he grew up mostly in Dallas, in a house off Forest and Greenville Avenue. By the age of 14 he joined his best friend, Stuart Grant, in the Fire Department Explorers program, and then followed Grant into night classes in at El Centro College in fire safety before the two had even graduated from Lake Highlands High School.
The college classes helped them to get a jump start in the Firefighter program and each quickly became a rookie—Stuart at 19, Rett at 20—and both have worked for the department ever since. Stuart is now a Chief for the Grapevine Fire Department, and Rett is Captain at Station 11 in Cedar Springs, a station that went through an extensive renovation a few years ago.
Rett followed his friend in one other area: both have been board members of the Fire Museum in the Exposition Fair Park area. Rett became President of the board last year when Stuart moved out to the Grapevine Fire Station.
Originally built in 1907 as the fire station for downtown Dallas, the fire station portion of the building was closed in 1975, and it has become a museum filled with memories, photos and mementoes of a century of firefighting in Dallas, replete with old-time engines and hoses, hats and equipment used to fight fires and save lives for a century.
Rett met his wife, Donna, while working as a paramedic, when he was taking a patient upstairs at Dallas Medical City. She was a new nurse then, and the two have been married since 1994—22 years this April.
A Firefighter since January 31, 1979, Rett is retiring April 29, 2016, after 37 years, and he will also be turning over the reins of the Museum to Trixie Lohrke. She’ll be the first female Firefighter Museum Board President.
After decades of a fire fighter’s shift of 24 hours on, 48 hours off, Rett looks forward to travelling, cooking and spending more time with his wife. Rett’s known for his delicious home beer brewing and pretty extensive cooking skills. In 2007 he won Tabasco’s Hottest Firehouse Cook Contest in New York when he cooked at the American Culinary Institute in a competition against nine other firefighters. New York Chef Mario Batali, owner of 25 restaurants and author of 10 Cookbooks, was one of the judges.
Some scoop from the nearly-four decade firefighter: Rett says rainy days are often busy for firefighters as they respond to multiple car wrecks. Elevators snafu’s—as older buildings’ elevators get stuck, or new ones malfunction, which sets off automatic alarms--–also send firefighters to the rescue, but about nine out of 10 times these alarms are false. In fact, statistically speaking, less than 1% of calls turn out to be true fire alarms—the rest are false and result in zero property damage. And, as more people move to the DFW area, there are more car wrecks; those crashes are nearly equal in number to fire alarms today.
Today’s firefighters are trained first to be an EMT/paramedic.
He says the typically shift--24 hours on, then 48 off – can be tough, but when he became Captain, he got his own bedroom, which meant more sleep because he didn’t hear his co-workers snoring.
It’s a career he’s loved. He says it’s so competitive now, “I encourage potential applicants to try to get on with multiple fire departments.” He elaborates, “We get lots of guys from California and other states and they take tests all over the country. It’s an exciting career, and lots of military guys, veterans getting back from their tours, are often interested in becoming firefighters. We’ve had WWII vets, then Korean, Vietnam and now Afghanistan and Iran war veterans because they are used to that excitement level.”
After the 2008 economic crash, Rett said, there was a new influx of firefighters: “Guys that were coming from high paying jobs, well educated – pretty sharp people--were applying to be Firefighters.”
Calls for action in the station come from an electronic woman’s voice that Rett says “was fun to listen to for about the first 24 hours I worked there,” and now drives him nuts. The house also has a bell system: if there’s one ring the ambulance responds; two rings alert the engine and three rings are for the truck. If one, then two, then three rings are heard, everyone heads out.
He also wishes Dallas drivers would follow the rule about hearing fire sirens: pull over to the right and stop, and let the emergency vehicles have the right of way. Ambulances, fire engines and ladder trucks need a clear path to the emergency, which can be difficult in city traffic.
As for Chicago Fire, the popular TV show, Rett has never seen it. He says few fire-fighting movies are realistic and the closest was the show “Rescue Me,’ about the trauma firefighters went through after 9/11.
Rett hopes this year’s Second Annual “Firefest 2016” is twice as big as last year’s inaugural event. The museum’s board looks forward to a fun, family-friendly event that can help raise funds toward the goal of a $5.6 million to fully refurbish the museum for years to come. The ultimate goal of the museum is to teach fire safety to all: children, teens, adults.
Rett says he knows Dallas has generous people living in the city and he’d love to find “a guy who was really big into being a fireman when he was a little kid – like the late Arthur Fielder of the Boston Pops, who was a famous fire buff—who could write a big check to cover a lot of the Museum’s renovations.”
Rett could even let that donor climb onto a real fire truck. But there will be no sliding down the pole. That’s been relegated to the history books, along with the horse-drawn fire engines.
Firefest information will be available this weekend at the Deep Ellum Art Festival: look for the fire truck to get the event flyer!
Firefest 2016 is June 4, 2016, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in downtown Dallas, on Exposition Boulevard near Fair Park. The Children’s “Bucket Brigade” races begin at 11:00 a.m. It is free.
Music will be ongoing and the Fireman’s pipe and drum corps will play at noon to kick off the Cart Races.
Teams of five adults for the Cart Races can register for $20 per person or $100 per team.
T-shirts and Fire Museum souvenirs will be available for sale at the Museum. Food Trucks will be available.
The party continues at Pizza Lounge in the evening for food and beer and more socializing.
If you would like to learn more about the capital campaign to expand educational outreach and renovate the Museum, please call 214-821-1500. Volunteers for Firefest can also call. Check the event’s Facebook page.
See more at: http://www.dallasfiremuseum.com/capital-campaign-2/a-modern-museum/#sthash.F0E1Wtsv.dpuf
Rett Blankenship is the current Firefighter Museum President--Captain, Station 11
See more at: http://dallasfiremuseum.com/board-members/#sthash.UBq6L467.dpuf
Or contact any Firefest Committee member at the Dallas Fire Museum downtown: Jerry “Zip” Crawford, Tom Wattenbarger, Station 11 Captain Rett Blankenship, Mike Otto.