Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Crash Course in Firefighting



Several years ago, I was living on a small 11-acre piece of land in rural South Georgia. I had went out on my own consulting on Novell networks and performing PC repair. The first few years I worked out of an office at the house and spent the majority of my time around the house.

We lived 15 miles from the county seat, the Sheriff's office, the hospital, and EMS. The county did not have a paid fire service but depended on volunteers. Every time I stopped in at the local country store, the owner would mention that they had a volunteer fire department right next door and would invite me to their weekly meeting.

For month's I declined the offer. Finally, I decided to drop in one night. I got introduced to the regulars, was given the tour of all the trucks and equipment. Many of the our neighbors worked 20 miles away during the day time, so someone in the area during the day was beneficial. Before I left the meeting that night, I was issued a radio and given a call sign. The chief told me if I heard my number called on the radio, answer it quick and be headed to the station to get a truck rolling. "But don't worry", he added, "the regulars will be right behind you."

The next afternoon, I was sitting at the house working on some client work, when I heard some chatter on the radio. Apparently one of the neighboring fire departments in our county was working a garage fire. Suddenly, I heard my number being called. I answered and the dispatcher quickly instructed me to get one of our trucks rolling to back them up.

I pulled on my boots and flew out the door to make the drive to the fire station. As I pulled up, I noticed no one else seemed to be converging on the fire house. The fire chief's wife was walking over from the country store to give me directions to where the fire was in a neighboring community. As I started up one of the fire engines, a younger guy came running up and jumped in the passenger side of the cab. Off we went.

As we made the drive to the fire scene, we monitored the radio activity of the other department. One of the conversations has always stuck in my mind. The Sheriff's office had called them to inquire if they needed additional units for backup. The fireman on scene answered in a panicky voice, "10-4. It's a big, BIG fire." We then heard him tell the dispatcher that he had run out of water and was having to go to the nearest hydrant to refill.

A few minutes later, we rolled up on the scene. Fire was shooting out the roof of an unattached garage/shop building. A Sheriff's Deputy was standing in the front yard watching the scene. Two firefighters were actively fighting the fire and about a dozen neighbors were standing less than ten feet away watching.

I opened a compartment on the truck, pulled out bunker gear and a helmet and suited up. One of our department's veterans drove up in his pickup and got suited up as well. We pulled 1 1/2" hose, fired up our pump, and began to make attack. Suddenly I heard a BOOM and something whizzed about my head. I quickly ducked and turned to see what it was. A gallon paint can had built up enough pressure in the fire to shoot the lid off. It was just enough to make your heart skip a beat. Before I could get settled down from that shock, an air compressor in the shop built up a great deal of pressure in the fire and the pressure relief "pop off" valve released and made a sudden noise followed by wild hissing. It took me a minute to recognize what it was and I began to calm.

I looked around and noticed that prior to the two surprises, the spectators and the Deputy had all been standing practically shoulder to shoulder with me as we were attacking the fire. Now, they were all gone. In fact, I could not even determine where they had all run off to, but they were now out of harms way for sure.

As we moved around the building spraying water on the flames, I suddenly got a little tingle in my hands. The veteran that was on the nozzle quickly shut the nozzle off and tossed the hose and ordered me to not touch the house. We began carefully walking along the hose back to the truck. Halfway back we found a downed power line lying partially submerged in the yard directly below our hose. As we were working around the building, we had unknowingly pulled the hose across this down power line which apparently was live. the outside of the hose sweats a bit of water, just enough to conduct electricity accounting for the tingle we had felt.

So the veteran got on the radio and requested the local power company be dispatched to kill the downed power line. In the meantime, he stated the scene was not safe and we could not proceed until it was.

So we set back away from the power line and the hose and waited. It took around 15 minutes for the power company showed up and killed the power to the down wires. Once they completed their work, we finished putting the wet stuff on the red stuff. Several minutes were then consumed with loading up wet hose, loading up all the hand tools and storing our gear.

We returned to the station, filled the truck with fuel, refilled the water tank, hung the wet hose on the hose drying rack, and loaded dry hose back on the truck.

I had survived my first fire scene with the volunteer fire department and had been given a crash course in what to expect at a live fire scene. For the years since, I can still remember all of the hazards that presented themselves that day. And never to date have I ever encountered that many hazards at one fire scene since. It was definitely a good learning experience and an eye opener.

2 comments:

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Allen Madding:

What a great story! Who would have thought about the threat of electrocution from an hose contacting an electric wire? And yet it makes perfect sense.

My father was a professional firefighter for 35 years, and retired as a Battalion Chief in Jersey City, New Jersey's second largest city. I have one of his old helmets, a New Yorker-style classic leather helmet, with a hole burned through it.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Allen Madding said...

reep,

I have all the admiration in the world for professional firefighters from my stint as a volly. There is not much harder work on the face of this planet - long hours and low pay. It takes a very special breed of person.

It is really cool you still have his old leather helmet. The stories that helmet could tell if it could talk.


Thanks for reading and writing!

-Peace