What its like to be a firefighter, with real experience
| Many people are curious about the the job of a firefighter, so I decided to write a few words on the essentials of the profession.
While some join the Fire service simply for the money, the vast majority seek excitement. Some are drawn, of course, by the red lights, siren, horns and speedy responses to calls. Thrill seekers, mostly. Others join from a sense of commitment and duty to the community. These are the ones from the service I most respected.
Firefighting, in all honesty is mostly a waiting game. You never know when the alarm will ring or what the situation will be on those occasions. If you are a firefighter you will train for every conceivable emergency (some will still be unexpected and unconceivable).
Training is what makes you useful in an emergency. You must study continually on all aspects of undesirable conditions to prepare.
You must train with your equipment and learn to use tools efficiently. You must learn safety procedures. You can't save anyone if you become a victim yourself.
A firefighter will be good at many jobs. You will learn to cook if you don't already know how. Most fire departments alternate days on who is to cook the meals at the fire house. However the one thing all firefighters know is how to be a Janitor. You will sweep, mop, wax, polish chrome/brass, clean toilets, clean fire hoses, fire trucks, windows, wash dishes, clean your turnout gear(coat, boots, pants, helmet, etc), sanitize medical equipment, etc. Cleaning it the biggest job, next to training, you will do it every day you work.
If you are new at the job, you will be called: Probie (probationary firefighter), Rookie, Newbie, Trainee, Kid, etc. Everyone goes through this, and it's part of being in the "brotherhood"; Part of belonging. It's nothing personal and it's welcoming, don't be thin skinned, you can take it! Learn from your comrades and remember your part of a team now.
More about the "brotherhood". You will, at times, be in dangerous areas. You walked in while others were running out! Yet you will never be alone. Firefighters always team up at least in twos. Somebodys watches your back while you watch theirs. Your fellow firefighters will be like adopted brothers/sisters. It will be as if you have another family. Respond to the call, get the job done and return to the fire house together, all hands accounted for.
Most departments have their own academies for recruits. Rigorous training physically and cognitive, preparing you before you are assigned to a particular unit or truck. Most get there thinking they are ready for anything, and learning quickly that experience is what will teach them the most. Veterans see recruits come in usually just smile at the polished badge holders arrival. "bright-eyed and bushy tailed", ready for the 3 alarm fire to show their stuff.
The firefighter of today has more than fires to contend with. Medical emergencies are the highest percentage of calls encountered. Focusing on training and the job at hand, they have to resist sympathy and distance theirselves from emotional envolvement. Some suffer from being unable to detach from the victims they see and assist, leading to PTSD (post tramatic stress disorder) and other pyschological ailments. Ususally this is referred to as "burn out" in the service. The calls of the day must be put aside, because you have a job to do. The next call depends on you being professional.
However, their will be plenty of levity as well. As I said, you are not alone, your comrades were there too. Sooner then you think, your back to laughing at someones joke; playing basketball or grilling hamburgers out back.
Fighting fire itself is an experience like no other. While in it's basic form your just spraying water on a blaze, there is so much more to it then that. If the fire is in a building, for example, most cases visability is zero from smoke. Provided there is no one inside to rescue, and your job is clearly extinguishment, thats your focus. Consider you are wearing a thick coat, and pants over your normal clothing, no matter the outside temperature or inside heat. You have steel shanked and toed rubber boots, heavy fire resistant gloves, a fire resistant hood over your head and neck, a bottle of compressed normal air (not oxygen) on your back, and leather or comparable helment strapped on your head and a rubber mask over your face. The mask is steamed up inside reducing visability even outside the building.
Your are there as either nozzleman, hose "humper" (pulling the heavy water filled hose for the nozzleman), line offices or back-up. You go in on your knees, hearing your labored breathinng throught the mask while trying to munderstand the muffled voices of your fellow firefighters or the two-way radio you carry; asking for situation updates. Imagine this, and you havent even entered the structure! Your at the threshold, Black smoke billowing out above you, occasional licks of flame venturing out the door traveling along the ceiling. Feeling the heat increase as you enter.
Nearer the floor the smoke not as dense, you switch on your flashlight, like using bright headlights on your car in a superdense fog, you see the beam end a foot in front of you. The flames still lash along the ceiling at uneven interludes and its getting hotter. You want to spray the water but you can't! Especially in a fog pattern. You know from training water converts to steam roughly 1700 times in mass! If you opened the nozzle in that position youd risk scalding yourself or buddies there with you! So you move on, trying to find the source.
Okay, back to reality and out of the fire for a moment. Close your eyes and bring up a mental image of your home. Think if you were to crawl in your front door, what would you encounter? Moving into the house, is there a couch? Maybe a coffee table, TV? A bear rug maybe? A firefighter never know what hes going to bump into! We probably havent been to your house. Thats what I want you to imagine. Businesses, yes, we pre-plan for those. We know most of the layout and it helps immensly but the average home, its a labyrinth!
Back to the fire...now you are pulling the hose and it's stuck! Crawling around have it wedged in the kinkspace of a largebookcase you dont know is there. Everytime you jerk on the hose the bookcase conse dangerously close to toppling over on top you and your crew...but you dont know it, you cant see it!
Now the heat id intense, you are close, looking behind you you cant see where you entered, but you know if you have to leave quickly you can follow your firehose back out by feel. You are a little scared, maybe you should get up and run out best as you can. But you fight the panic. Training kicks in again, you stand up, you get the worst heat, you get completely disoriented and worse you'd be leaving your buddies behind. Fight the panic..do your job! Your two way radio says somkething you cant understand. you give a muffled response to repeat last transmission. A safety officer outside reports five has broken through the roof, near the rear of the house! So acknowledge and proceed on. You can hear the roar of the fire now, and adrenaline pushes you toward a distant glow.
Finally, you wrestle yourself and crew to a doorway where youve found the fire! You pray that the heat dosent melt your air mask as you prepare to put out the fire. Your team gets as close to actually becoming part of the floor as possible, you adjust the stream on the nozzle that you know like the back of your hand from training. You open it slowly and let it at it reach its elemental enemy in a loud steming hiss and roar. Suddenly the interior becomes more turbulent as the temperature rapidly changes and steam overcomes smoke to observers outside your entry point.
A second hose crew awaits near the entrance, there for assistance or primarily the rescue of your crew should something go wrong. They silently acknowledge the difference in situation, knowing youve found the base of the fire; still they wait diligently.
The fire had barely broken thru the roof so the venting is mostly from the entrance. In seconds the visibility improves and you carefully apply the water. You know water can casue as much damage as fire so you use only enough to properly stop fire loss and prevent restarts.
Now your crew can slowly backtrace thru the house, seeing somewhat the objects you pressed and pushed by getting to the fire...like the bookcase you almost tipped over.
Exiting, you inform the mopup /salvage and overhaul crew and command of the situation, and tell them to watch out for the bookcase. One of your crews low air alarm is going off as you head to R & R. There you drop all your heavy, sweaty gear, grab a electrolyte enhanced drink and allow yourself to be cooled off and checked out by medics. Looking back at the structure you see steam and smoke lazily coming out the top of the door ans ventilation fans are set up , windows open and the salvage work go on.
You think, "yeah, that was awesome" and high five your crew. Good job!