StachetoberFest 2023

Let’s start with a children’s fablepopular in most cultures:

Once upon a time there was a firefighter without a mustache. He was a sad firefighter. He struggled with his ladders, his hose pulls were slow, his ax was smaller than the rest of the boys. All the other fire fighters looked down upon him and secretly disdained his naked face…and they were right to do so. He did not possess the same skill, strength, or sex appeal of his hairier compadres. Over his career, the earth degraded, and it was clear the end of the world was near. Right before its implosion A.I. bots were sent to his location to chemically test and remove the most genetically fit humans of the region. All the mustache bearing men were loaded onto spaceships in order to fruitfully repopulate the new world. And he sat, alone, on the ambulance, mustache-less, wishing he had made better decisions prior to the big day.

Moral of the story. Grow a mustache before the end of the world or you’ll find yourself alone on the box.

Big Day: October 3rd, 5pm-close, Stone Brewery 1999 Citricado Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92029. Be there! Your mom will…well my mom will. She loves me. View the website for details. StachetoberFest – Changing the Face of Charity 

You can also pre-purchase dinner (one time through buffet), apparel and make donations. Shirts purchased online can be claimed at the fest. If you choose to ship it, we will ship ALL items the week of Oct 3rd. 

We will be supporting CalFire’s Tim Rodriguez and Josh Bischof this year. 2 great families at a terrible loss. I will release more details concerning the recipients in the next email. Thank you for your generosity in advance, none of us wanna go out early, but we can count on each other to care for our families if we do.

Go to the site, buy your tickets (first 500 get a pint glass), a few shirts, and din din if you want it. Grow your stache and support your brothers, may they rest in peace. Donate – StachetoberFest 

Ok, that’s it on the event details, the rest concerns the heart, dive deep if you like…

My wife and I recently took a stroll with our 50 children and their friends to La Jolla Shores in our breeder van (anything above a 7 passenger qualifies as a breeder van- a shout out to the Mormons and the Catholics). As we hit cruising altitude, I noticed that the 15 freeway was bumpier than I remembered. “Hmmm, that’s weird. What is the likelihood the Keebler Elves installed tiny little speed bumps across the 20 miles of freeway between Escondido and the La Jolla?” Not likely. I let go of the wheel to check the alignment. I have 2 driving teens now and it’s not uncommon to find a sidewall painted red…or green…or white. Nope. Alignments good. Tires looked good before we left. I just chalked it up to 150,000 miles on an old van.

Over the next few days, the elves installed bigger speed bumps all over the county, including the small roads in Valley Center. “Man these guys are busy!” So I pull over again, check the tires and there it is, back right tire had a growing cyst. It is not an old tire, there was plenty of tread. This thing was now bald on a quarter of the tire. I found it fascinating how this tiny weakness in one square inch of the tire, dismantled and trashed the entirety in a matter of miles. I guess that’s how it works. A fortress ain’t much, if it’s got a weak spot in the wall or a traitor who opens the door. The heart doesn’t last long if one of it’s arteries gets blocked… and we’re no different.

A neglected spouse leads to an affair. An over parented child leads to rebellion or addiction. Too much control leads to anxiety. One little piece of the puzzle can topple the fortress or lead to an unnatural ride. When I was 16, I drove a fruit truck weekly to Los Angeles. The truck was exhibiting the same Keebler-speed-bump condition and ended up blowing a right front tire with a full load. The shredding of the tire took me 2 lanes right onto a deep shoulder, annihilated the fender, all without my consent or ability to effect a change.

Again, we’re no different. Well actually, that’s not true, we’re quite different, in comparison to the lot of humans. Our shit-tank overflows easier.

The black water tank that holds life’s excrement is as full as everyone else when we get into this job, but we fill it more and quick. More trauma, more custom problems than the 9-5er. You ever noticed how you remember all the calls of your first few years and then eventually you can’t even remember your last shift= trauma. Your brain is triaging, “nope! We’re all full up, throw those memories away.”

The tank is meant to be regularly serviced. I know we’ve talked about this before but stay with me. This information is important, like stretching before you lift heavy…AND you’re over 40. It’s not applicable until it is.

At this year’s marriage conference (the conference we held in Feb ‘23 for first responders), I talked with Dr. Mynda Ohs (keynote speaker) for about 5 mins between sessions and was confessing a few abnormal symptoms I was experiencing (erratic body and emotional responses without my consent). She dismantled me like a ninja with a series of rapid-fire questions that left me uncomfortable and unstable, “am I about to cry? Shit, I think I’m gonna cry!” I could picture all my little elves behind my eyeballs scrambling to plug and dike my tear ducts before they let loose in front of my peers.

“What was that about?!” I thought.

At the end of our conversation, Mynda, knowing that time didn’t permit a longer conversation, gave me a concluding sentence: “Listen dom, you’re f&%@d up. Most of us are,” waving to the room of first responders. “95% of my clients are retired. When the last bell rings, they drop their guard, start to sleep, and encounter 30 years of demons they’ve shoved into Pandora’s box. You can start to drain the tank now or you can wait like everyone else to be force fed when you’re retired.” And then she went back to the front to give the next session.

“Well that sucks!”

So where do we go with that, and how is it applicable?




Feelings are the bridge between your perception and reality.

All of our decisions stem from this garden. Feelings do the sowing and then maturity, experience, and wisdom decide what grows to fruition and what is pulled and burned.


Most of us get into this job in our youth, when feelings are the sole decision driver. Just think back to your 20-year-old decisions. “Getting blackout drunk in Vegas and spending $5,000 in one weekend sounds like a great idea!”

That feeling-driver is intended by design. It’s what makes us risk, push our physical limitations, mental limitations, it builds our confidence and shows us that we can do more than we thought. And that is all good, it’s very important.

But, feelings are tricky in this job. Although we may have used feelings to make all our decisions, they stop aiding us quickly…here. Every new proby learns that feelings do not help them in their performance. Sadness on a pediatric trauma impedes recollection of protocols and efficient airway management. Severely damaged ego leads to inability to learn and overcome old behaviors. Fear prohibits movement. So what’s the alternative? Duh! Bury that shit till you’re done with the call…or the shift…or, as Mynda implied, your career. How’s that going?

These behaviors make us stand out. They make us attractive to our mates, “This guy’s, calm, collect, responsible, makes sound decisions, isn’t afraid to try…” Over the years that can change to, “this guy’s emotionless, detached, hates people, etc.”



“Shitter’s full!” And that’s what get’s everyone’s attention. You find yourself, in a woman’s bathrobe, in your front yard, emptying your black tank into a storm drain (If you haven’t seen National Lampoons Christmas Vacation—shame on you!) Our coping mechanisms are capped. We’re still capable, but we get hollowed out.

“Well that’s great Polito, once again you’ve illuminated how F’d up I am. Have a good day, I’ll talk to you later.”

No. You’re not. You are working just as you are designed. The overflow (Uncle Eddie), is your que. You didn’t do anything wrong, you’re not broken, your heart is giving you a friendly reminder that it’s time to drain the tank.

What’s that mean? There’s practical’s: counseling, marriage counseling, peer support, self-care, exercise, less cover-ups (damaging behaviors in search of feeling good). But the real work comes in the understanding. Understanding permits consent, consent (and suffering) gives way to change. And that brings us back to feelings.

“I feel, therefore I am,” is our current culture’s mantra. Apply that to a toddler or a teenager and it’s easy to see that it’s not fruitful. No different for us. We have our feelings AND our cognitive, experience, and wisdom-based self. This second part is growing, it’s called maturity. We all do it at different ages. Maturity is the point when our feelings become an accessory to our understanding, not the driver. I wish someone would have told me this. Your feelings are your intel to your beliefs. They’re like a barometer. “Oh man! It’s gonna be 105 on Wednesday!!! Hydrate or die!”

An integrated, mature human does the following:

Has an experience.

Feelings relay our body’s physical response to the experience.

Our wise self integrates the two and comes up with a battle plan.

Example: I’m tired from running on bums all night, I’m gonna have an extra cup of coffee with my bride when I get home, take the kids to school, and take a nap.

The problem is when we revert back to our 20’s: “I feel therefore I am.” We come home and ask our feelings to tell us who we are…right now. If this were our reality: Our love of spouse, children, and self, would hinge on the kind of night we had. We can’t afford these kind of perceptions.

If only there was a way we could train ourselves to make good decisions based on fruits and desired outcomes instead of feelings. “Oh wait! That’s the fire service! I’ve been doing that for 2, 5, 10, 20 years! Jackpot!” We have programmed our bodies to put feelings aside and make very difficult decisions quickly. We must apply that same training to the rest of our life. It’s fruit based.

If someone has a low O2 SAT, you put ‘em on a cannula, then a NRB. If they don’t respond- CPAP. If that works-then it works= fruit based. Inch and ¾ line puts the fire out? Done! If not= 2 ½…deck gun. Fruits!

We must apply the same to our relationships. If you come home tired and don’t feel like doing anything…and don’t, except maybe have a few beers in the evening and tweak out on something that apparently feels more important than your relationships, then you’ll go back to work feeling like a shitty spouse and parent (cause you were). If you continue down that same feeling-based track, add ‘em all together and you start to wonder why your life sucks.

OR, you come home tired, have coffee with the wife, play with the kids, and go out on a date, your wife jumps your bones…good fruits. You’re choosing out of love, not feelings. As you invest in these things, your feelings hitch the trailer to those that matter most, and you experience the fruits that were just beyond your choice…just beyond, so close.

Folks, our feelings are liars. But they ARE intel! We must put on our big boy(girl) pants and make decisions based on what is important, USING our feelings to inform us where we are—“I’m tired, my decisions are gonna cost me today…and that’s ok.” If we go with our feelings only, we’ll end up in Vegas spending our emergency fund with the guys for a weekend that didn’t drain the tank.

In a way, we must choose first, and feel second. Yes, it’s backwards, it is counter intuitive. It feels terrible, initially. But it is who we are in this job, and how we operate because of it. Accept it and learn it. The “feelings-balance” will follow. All humans go through this, we just do it earlier and faster. We must accept. You can only paddle up stream for so long before you burn out…but everyone loves a good float trip-downstream, in the direction of life, your life.

Folks, just as an amputee doesn’t count on their legs growing back, we should not count on our feelings driving our decisions. Choose first! The good stuff is just beyond.

Keep up the good fight. See you at the Fest. Support the Rodriquez and Bischofs, they need us. Donate – StachetoberFest



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