Friday, August 12, 2011

In Respect to Firemen

***My use of the masculine pronouns in this piece no way discredits the females in firefighting, as I realize here are many, just as brave and hardworking as their male counterparts***

Tonight I went to visit a special friend at a local fire department. He had invited me to come by during ‘night drill’. I knew that they went and trained on nights- but I had no true understanding of what they really did.

He gave me the address and I was on my way. At first I thought I was going to his station, but as the GPS started beeping, I noticed an empty building to my left surrounded by fire trucks from several local agencies. At first I thought I had run into an active fire scene, but several texts later told me I was in the right place.

The building was an old car dealership that was going to be destroyed. The city had obtained permission to use it for for training purposes until it was torn down. There were firefighters all over the place, some in turn out gear and some in shorts and t shirts that were soaked in sweat.

My friend took me in the building and led me thru what I can only describe as a firefighters’ obstacle course. There were multiple rooms with different objectives for the firemen to complete.

The first room had the guys crawling along a hose line, complete with Scott air packs in the dark. As they crossed the room along the hose line, a piece of fencing is dropped on them to replicate a roof caving in and trapping them. I listened to the firefighter call his ‘mayday’. In a calm intonation, he said mayday, identified where he was, what engine company he was with, his name and what had happened. He communicated calmly with his teammates and was able to get himself from under the ‘collapsed roof’. I mentioned to my friend that I thought the guy was too calm, almost monotone- but he explained they train them to be that way- flat and unexcited on the radio so their emergency message can be understood by all.

The next room was a completely dark, and was designed to get the guys to think ’outside the box’ and realize the closest egress may not be on a side wall- but above you or possibly below.

The exercise that really blew me away was the ‘firefighter down’ drill. The instructors had placed a dummy firefighter in the building, and it is up to teams of firefighters to go in, locate the downed firefighter and get him out of said room. There are obstacles, furniture, darkness, multiple variables to make the exercise as realistic as possible. Each man also carries a sensor to signal running out of air and the need to get out of the building. It often takes several teams to get the fallen firefighter out. I witnessed two men struggle, one after his foot became entangled and another who truly panicked and was having a difficult time completing the exercise. There is no room for panic and hysteria in the job. Lack of focus can kill a firefighter quickly.

The local agencies I watched this evening train hard. They do so in memory of their fallen brothers, the Charleston Nine, who perished in a fire due to multiple reasons. We never want to have another Charleston Nine, or even Charleston one. You can read about the Charleston Nine here.** Warning, it is disturbing and emotional.**

As general public, we think of firefighters as hose jockeys and water pumpers- but what they do is so much more. The job of a firefighter is hard, daunting and dangerous, often thankless. The next time you see a firefighter - tell him thank you, for his hard work and bravery, wether it be in the past, present or future.