Thursday, December 3, 2009

Unscheduled Hours…..

I’m just back from a call. Two hours standing on a frozen road watching a tree that may, or may not succeed in it’s attempt to take the 13KV primary line completely to the road surface, completing the circuit to ground and offering up a spectacular reward for those few of us that stood there for so long watching it, protecting the public, and awaiting the arrival of ‘our heroes’ the power company folks, to fix the problem. We do a lot of these calls in our part of the world during the spring and fall when the weather gets blustery. We have many hundreds of miles of power lines and millions of trees. They do not always ‘get along’. So who you gonna call? Us. We actually had 2 of these calls working in different parts of town at the same time tonight. I was en route to the first one with an engine and got diverted to handle the second one. That happens a lot here when the weather kicks up. One night a few years ago we had 14 calls in 20 minutes. We don’t have those kinds of resources, but we handled it with creative thinking and covered them all by priority and severity. It was a long evening and one in which I almost lost a man on my Engine. I’ll tell you about that sometime soon.
The point I’m trying to make here is that we never know what we will get called for, or when. Unlike the career service where you are “on” when you are “on duty”, and you are “off” at other times, we in the Volunteer service are always “ON”. (I know there are thousands of the ‘Paid On Call types’ out there, but again, you know when you are on.) Not that there is anything special about that, it’s just part of the job. It can make things hard at times, and you certainly need to find a way to deal with it in your mind, as well as with your family and friends.
Every time I go to a family event at my sister’s house one of the first things she asks me is “are you on tonight?” I am always on, I tell her. Usually we meet at her place on Holidays (when we are not at our place) and holidays are the times when EVERYBODY is with family or close friends. I know this means relaxing, family time, perhaps a few beers, and that means you are out of action. So although I REALLY enjoy kicking back and having a couple of beers (maybe a few more if I don’t have to drive) I also know if we get a major call, we need all the help we can get. So contrary to the rest of the sane world, I generally don’t drink on holidays. If I do, it’s very late in the evening when the motoring public is home and all the older folks are in bed. I’m working the statistics into my social habits. I am not alone and I know several other people in my department as well as many other departments that surround us, that do the same as I do. We even have one Officer that gave up drinking completely because he missed a few big fires. Hasn’t had a drop in over 15 years. It’s a good thing to have: Dedicated people who not only see, but focus on the big picture.
On the other hand, there are some that I just can’t understand. They take assignments and are ‘unable’ to respond. If you don’t want a job, why volunteer for it? If you do volunteer for it, why not just do it?
Right now I am assigned to EMS and have a few dozen people in my Company (I still do Fire when the pieces fall into place for me). We organize these folks into duty groups, they pick the night they can respond. Yes, sometimes we bend a few arms to get things evenly distributed, of course, but each individual does ONE NIGHT (12 hours). For the life of me, I do not see why this is so hard. The rules are simple: if ‘something comes up’, you need to find somebody to cover for you and notify your crew who it is, otherwise we (and the state laws) expect you to be there when the tones drop. Almost every week we have a call and I get a phone call or email the next day that “so and so didn’t show up at the 3am call”. I then have to follow up. I hate this with a passion. I know that I will get the excuses and I have heard them all, some good and reasonable, some poor, some unbelievable, and some just downright unacceptable. Some folks ‘get it’ and are sick to learn that they missed a call, usually because their pager never tripped. (We have hills around here and atmospherics can affect radio propagation in strange ways.) I also get the excuses like “I had a big meeting in the morning” (so you were willing to let Mrs. O’Grady die?), “I thought it was a BS call” (so you were OK with blowing your crew off to handle it?), “That was a Fire call, you didn’t need me” (OH, and you are saying that our Fire personnel are not worthy of an EMS presence to back them up? Not to mention that our POLICY is that EMS rolls on EVERY fire call to care for victims or our own people.) You the reader, should understand that we are backed up by an ALS unit (commercial service) on every call, but our goal is to turn them around before they get too far down the road if we can handle it without ALS interventions. Our primary concern is the patients we serve, but it sure would be nice if we could serve them without mutual aid. Why is this so hard?
I am guessing that we are not the only service that experiences these problems. Does anybody out there have any magic bullets?


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