Friday, June 4, 2010

Did you ever feel like the Maytag Repair man?

Yeah, you know the guy, he sits around all day waiting for someone to call for him to come repair their washing machine. He never gets a call because Maytag machines are so good and he winds up finding other things to fill his day.
Well, tonight I feel like him. I heard a call on the radio for a chimney fire in a district about 15 miles from here, too far for mutual aid, for us anyway. It turned out to be a working structure fire. So I’m sitting here listening to the second alarm and all the dispatches for mutual aid, move-ups, investigators, draft site setup, etc, and I am thinking “Why can’t that be us?”
Now this thought surprised me quite a bit. You see I am not, and I never hope to be, one of those whackers that goes nuts on a big call or wishes for one in our district. I HATE these guys. I would really prefer that everybody stays safe, does not wreck their car or burn their home, have medical emergencies, suffer trauma, or anything like that. I would like to stay home. I don’t not wish ill on anyone, and lets face it, we make a job out of other folks mis-fortune. We train and PLAN for it, that’s why we do well at it. We EXPECT it to happen and we KNOW it WILL happen.
As I’ve mentioned before, we are a rural district. A few years back, not too many, we responded to 15 working structure fires. Some were pretty ugly and some were a lot worse. But we were good at it. We had several nice saves that year. We got popular with our mutual aid companies too, being called for working fires all over because our interior teams were hardened and had it all together. We had discipline, did our jobs, and got out. No muss, no fuss, no big deal. A very tight group. Any department that called us knew what they were getting and knew they could depend on us. They often used our Chief to handle the interior attack teams and coordinate the suppression effort.
We train hard and often, even today. We get down on ourselves when we don’t get it quite right in training or on a real job. We take the job seriously. Unfortunately, not all Departments run this way.
We haven’t had a working fire call in over 2 years. We have had several structure fire dispatches that have turned into “saves” with minimal damage. We have had a couple that would have been workers if the residents had not made the right call and summoned us when they did. I know that these should be counted as victories and they are. We feel good when somebody can sleep in the same place they woke up in because we provided them a hand at the right moment..
Still, we have qualified (read: “Properly and fully Trained”) Interior Firefighters that have not seen a ‘worker’ yet. I’m getting old quick. The last worker I went in was a hardware store fire (a year and a half ago?). We saved the building (and when I say “we” I mean all the companies on scene, not just our company, it’s a team effort) and the business was re-opened in a couple of months better than ever. The good part of that job was seeing the owner in near tears asking politely if we could ‘just get the computer out of the his office?’ and we managed to do that for him. It was still in working order and he could have kissed us all. The bad thing about that job was seeing the lack of discipline from some of the other companies. They didn’t stick with their assignments, redirected their efforts on a whim, free-lanced, and did things that made us all realize they could get us hurt if we paired up with them. Standing 6 feet in front of a 8 foot wide plate glass window when heavy black smoke is pushing out of the eaves is not the smartest thing in the world, especially a building filled with paints, chemicals, propane bottles, and all sorts of other goodies. The first arriving engine parked broadside to the front of the building and 15 feet away. This clearly shows a lack of training and endangers everyone.
Staying sharp is difficult when you don’t get the practice. If you don’t get the practice, the interest in training drops. If training drops, skills drop accordingly. It’s an ugly spiral.
So now that I’m thinking this through, it’s probably not that I wish we had a worker to get the juices flowing. What I am really hoping for is something to keep the interest in training and skills going. Sure, if we had a true working fire that would get the juices loaded for a few months, but perhaps, as an Officer, I should be looking for other ways to accomplish the same thing. Hmmm….
Nope, not coming up with anything that gets the crew roused as much as a working fire. Does anybody out there have any ideas to share? What we’re looking for is something that builds confidence, tests skill, enhances camaraderie, contributes to trust between crew members, and re-enforces the training. In addition, there should be the requisite adrenaline boost and overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.
I’m still drawing a blank here.
Well I can tell you that I am not ‘wishing’ for a structure fire. It’s December and that means ice, frozen fingers and toes, slipping around at the draft site, slipping around at the dump tank, pumps freezing, frozen gear inhibiting movement, and MANY extra hours of putting equipment back in service. Trying to load frozen hoses in pickup trucks to get them back to the station and thaw them out to drain them gives me nightmares. A few years back there was a major structure fire a few towns over that resulted in three frozen and cracked pumps on three engines costing those companies many thousands of dollars. Before you say “well, those pump ops were poorly trained” hold your tongue. It was 10 below zero that night, the incident ran 7 hours, and the pumps were in recirculating mode when they froze and cracked. It took a week for neighboring departments to help the ‘home’ department repair, clean, service, and put them back in service. Each department volunteered a night to go down and help them out.
So no, I do not wish for a structure fire tonight, or any night. But I do wish that somebody could tell me how we prepare for the ‘ugly night’ when we seldom have an ‘ugly night’.

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