Sunday, March 20, 2011

On being a "Yard Breather"

 We caught some good work a couple of nights ago. A worker in a 100+ year old Village Library in a small district 2 towns up the line. (Picture a Norman Rockwell, American Main St.)

These folks call us because they train with us all the time and know we come ready to work. They know us, we know them, it's all good. I just wish it wasn't a 20 minute run doing 70mph to get there. I'm on their swiftwater rescue team and it feels like home when I go out to work a job with them. I also teach out there once a year, so all the guys and gals know me, it's nice, and I feel welcome, none of that competitive crap. They also feed me when they work me, which is always nice.
 Anyway, they called us in for this job along with 3 or 4 other Departments. Being that a) I am at the furthest end of my district away from the fire scene, b) It was 0300, and c) I am the 'old man' after all and don't get too excited about these things anymore, I did not make the truck. So I followed out in my POV, sucked down a bottle of water to clean out the pipes, and caught the progress on the radio of which there was precious little, as I drove. Everybody was busy.
 Because I arrived 3 minutes behind my crew, truck, and Chief, they had already made entry through the rear. I got held up by the mutual aid chief handling logistics. He sent me to a waiting position across the street where he SAID my crew would be assembling. I didn't know they were inside already and I followed orders. Consequently, I was not used because that Chief wasn't very good at utilizing manpower, rotating crews, or even keeping track of what's going on. I should have known because he's done similar things to me before. Last time I went off and did another job to keep busy. Next time, I'll just work around him some other way. He's not a leader.
 So my crew is inside and I am following them on the tactical frequency. It's balloon construction. The fire started in the basement (heating system) and traveled to the ground floor nearly burning through the floor. Fortunately it found and easier path up inside the walls and was in the second floor and attic. It was quite a job to expose it and do a final extinguishment. My Chief had the interior attack command, as usual. He's born for that job. Very steady, predictable. focused and he keeps all the balls in the air at the same time. He tracks crew rotations, where his resources are on the outside of the building, maintains communication. thinks ahead and asks for support in the proper places before it's needed. He's a master to listen to. Whatever I think of my Chief on the management level , there are few I have ever seen that are as good as him on a working fire. I trust him with my life, anytime.

  So anyway, I'm out on the street watching it all go down with one of our Juniors who is doing a yeoman job of filling air bottles, fetching tools and generally making himself more useful than most of the Firefighters occupying the exterior. I'm still learning about this kid, so it was good to see the work ethic he had. I made a note to spend more time with him because he was obviously worth it.
 Me? I'm not feeling so useful and I am getting tired of doing the 'Fireman's shake' to keep the PASS alarm from going off. I'm not used to being a yard breather. Many guys and gals are coming by to say hello because they haven't seen me in a while. I am not much in the 'visiting mood' because I want to get to work, but it looks like that ain't gonna happen. So to occupy my mind I do some 'people watching" and I begin to realize how 'readable' we Firefighters are.
 I see an Officer briefing his crew and I see the entire crew, without looking down, reach into their pockets and pull out their gloves and put them on. They never take their eyes off the Officer as he gives instructions, then off they go to handle their task. A little down the road, I see another crew also listening to their Officer, this time they start putting on masks. They are going in for the next shift. I don't need to hear what the Officer said.
 I see a White Hat, front and center of the fire building in the center of the street, logistics and operations. He hasn't stopped chit chatting with a half dozen guys since I arrived. He is not paying attention. I hear the interior attack crew trying to find the fire and I hear them asking for some work on the outside of the second floor. The White Hat isn't even listening to his radio. To be sure, I walk over and ask he he copied the traffic from the attack crew? Did he hear a request for ladders? "No" he didn't and he jumps right to it. Three minutes later, he is back in position and busy not paying attention again. I gave up wondering why he doesn't have all the ladders up, why he isn't looking for ways to make things happen, or why he doesn't have anything staged and ready for the next move.
 I see a few other firefighter's like me, waiting for a job. Most are just hanging out, but some are watching carefully. I see two jump in the lend a hand with two others struggling trying to get a vent fan up a ladder.
 I finally give up waiting for any direction from the White Hat and find my own chores to do: Tool collection, humping hose lines, helping other Companies pack their trucks, and whatever else I can find. I never did mask up, but I stayed busy. The bulk of my work was done back at the station where we had a lot of crap to clean off the gear, lots of loose insulation that invaded everything. I put my scrub brush skills to work so that I could justify getting out of my rack at 0300 for a 4 hour shift.
 Just another job, but this time, from a point of view I wasn't used to. Sometimes that can be good, whether you like it at the time or not.

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