|Chris Mc Loone|
At the end of February, my company responded to a working dwelling fire. Heading down to the firehouse, everyone who responded knew it was going to be a job because of the way it was dispatched. I was the officer on the second-due apparatus from my station, a rescue truck. It was a Saturday evening, not particularly late, and we staffed all our apparatus.
I found myself on the second floor of the dwelling for this one and was kind of surprised. I figured I’d be on the outside helping the incident commander, but you go where the chief tells you to go. It was fine by me. I think deep down we all still want to be on the inside no matter what rank we achieve. Even as a chief officer, I’m prepared to go in when necessary, and I feel very comfortable doing so, as most chief officers do.
A month later, I found myself behind the wheel en route to a shed fire. The smoke header made it pretty obvious that we’d be flowing water once we arrived on location. What we came up on was a fully involved shed in a rear yard that backed up to woods. It was also a windy day, so you’d be correct if you guessed that the fire spread from just the shed into the woods.
I was an apparatus operator for many years before I moved up the ranks as a line officer and pumped my fair share of jobs. I never had any trouble getting water to the crews. That didn’t change at the shed fire, but it was amazing how different a pump panel looks when you haven’t operated one in a while. I have always enjoyed driving and the first several minutes of a working job before things settle down and I start wishing I had gotten to ride in the back instead of driving. But that shed fire had me scratching my head a couple of times.
Now, I had it pretty easy in that it seems when anyone sees a white hat driving and operating a truck, people come out of the woodwork to see if they can help. So as I was scratching my head at one point, my former chief engineer walked up and quickly pointed out what had me scratching my head and all was well. Pulled up, got water to the fire, got backed up, and everything went fine outside of a head scratching moment that luckily would not have impacted the overall operation because I would have found what I was looking for.
It did make me stop and think, however, about how firefighters are always ready to go in. The skills we learn very early on in our careers always come back. But apparatus operation, when you haven’t done it for a while, can trip firefighters up. And what was also a factor in my case was that the truck I was operating was not the one I operated for several years before moving up the line. What we read about muscle memory regarding firefighting is very applicable to apparatus operation. In fact, the same chief engineer who helped me out at the shed fire was the one who, when I was first qualified on our old pumper, told me to come into the firehouse once in a while and go through the motions on the pump panel—that if I did, it would all be second nature. And, it was—on the old truck! Obviously, I haven’t done that enough on the newest engine yet.
It’s Monday Morning
Social media has unfortunately given every person who has ever had an opinion about anything a forum to express their opinions in as vitriolic a manner as they want. The problem is that the purveyors of the vitriol rarely have all the facts and are just starting lots of mini fires that grow and grow. Two recent examples that come to mind are the Fresno captain who fell through the roof and a Maryland multialarm fire at which two fire apparatus were destroyed. For the good of the fire service, the next time an incident goes viral, before you Monday morning quarterback it, Monday morning quarterback yourself. It will be far more beneficial to you, your department, and the fire service at large. As a matter of fact, I think I did just that for most of this column!