Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sometimes the Training Pays Off.

 I haven't done a real Fire post in a while and I guess I got off track so I owe you one. This one will probably be long, so bear with me. I get to do a little bragging on my crew and I think you can share in my pride here if you read all the way through. Hopefully I can get this out in one sitting, but it's raining like mad and I expect we'll be pumping some cellars out tonight. Just like the other night...
 Sunday night is my EMS duty night, I am on call from 6pm until 6am Monday and am committed to the Ambulance. No fire work for me during that period, or for my driver, who is also my Fire Captain. We partner on the same night. We took a psych call at around 11pm for self-mutilation wounds. When that was done I went home and went to bed. Within 15 minutes the pages started coming out for cellar pumps. They had more cellars than crews and finally asked for everyone to come out. I rolled out of bed figuring helping out would be better than being woken up with a new dispatch every time I was falling asleep. After all, I was tied to the bus for the night anyway. So I went, and wound up pumping all night. The last call came in at 3am and we finished around 4:30. I put the engine to bed and went home took a shower, got dressed, took a 15 minutes nap at my desk, then went to work. I got home from work that night just toasted. I had dinner and a beer and was in bed at 7:00pm.
 The page for a cellar pump came out at 7:06, at the same address I had pumped 15 hours earlier. I turned on my radio, heard a truck answer up, and shut it off to get some sleep. I wasn't going out that night in any event, I was too tired to function safely. 36 hours with no sleep is too much for an old bastard like me.
 At 7:40 a page came in for all personnel to stand by at the various stations and await orders. Damn! "What the hell is going on now?" I thought. Then the pages really started, "Second ambulance to the scene", "All airpack certified personnel", "Third ambulance to the scene", "THIRD Alarm". I'm awake now and telling myself to stay in bed. But I'm also worried about my crew, what the hell is happening at a cellar pump? I was in that basement, did I miss something? Should I have caught a hazard that got them in trouble? It was tough to stay away, but I knew I wouldn't be much help in my condition. What I didn't know was that they had a full blown HAZMAT situation working complete with a HAZMAT team, the DECON setup, the County Emergency Manager, The County Fire Coordinator, ENCON, Environmental Protection, all there in full glory. Hot Zone, Warm Zone, Cold Zone, the whole nine yards. The pager calmed down and I finally fell asleep. My son came in around 10pm and woke me up to tell me what he knew I'd want to know: "Everybody is fine and they are returning to quarters." That's all I needed and fell back to a more restful sleep, the rest of the story would wait until tomorrow.
 So I suppose you'd like to know what happened?
 The call for the cellar pump came in during a company meeting and naturally they sent out some of the younger guys to handle it. Two of those guys had mentored under me in some form or other and I have played a part in the training of all three. They're young, but well trained and coming along nicely. They are also gaining in experience and it shows. Still, anytime you put somebody young into a situation they never seen before, you pray they'll be alert and do the right thing, but you feel better if somebody more experienced is around to back them up and provide some guidance. They were on there own for this one.
 So they arrived and two went into the basement to place the pump while the other went around back to feed the hose through the window. They followed our tracks through the snow from a few hours earlier. One Firefighter checked the outflow pipe from the existing sump pump and noticed, even in the dark, that the water was a 'funny purple color'. At the same time the pair that entered the basement noticed a similar dis-coloration in the water. The basement crew leader looked around for the source of the color and found a cardboard box, badly soaked through, which seemed to be the source. He noted the name of the chemical and backed out with his partner and made a phone call to the Chief to ask for advice. The Chief told them to stay outside, don't pump any water, and he'd be right there. Together they called dispatch and had them look up the substance, which prompted a call to Chemtrec, and conference call and then a call for a HAZMAT team. My young friend who was leading the crew that night said it seemed like half the county was there along with reps from every law enforcement agency he could think of. They had to go through DECON, and there was the issue of dealing with one of the non-ambulatory residents of the house, and the cleanup. The water in the basement had to be removed and taken for treatment. The only 'damage' was the bunker gear that had to be bagged and sent off for cleaning and might be condemned if the material is damaged by the chemicals.
 You'll forgive me if I brag about how proud I am of my guys and gals. They came across something they had never seen and did EXACTLY the right thing. You might be reading this and thinking it was a 'no-brainer' call, but so many people get hurt or killed in this business because they miss small things or make assumptions. My guys didn't hesitate and made the right call. I'd like to think that something I taught them had an effect on that decision, but even if it didn't, I feel like they graduated that night, at least they did in my eyes. I can worry about them a little less now. (But yeah, I still worry, they are still 'my guys'.)

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