Saturday, February 25, 2012

Firefighting Zoology

Mixing animals and firefighters usually results in a memorable incident.

The house was going good with fire in the basement and on the first floor. On the line in the basement, we made quick work of the fire there, much less than on the floor above. Exiting, we dragged the line over to go in and help on the first floor. On of the chiefs tapped me on the shoulder.

“Did you see a snake down there?” That got my attention.

“No, if I had you wouldn’t see me now. What kind of snake?” Snakes are not my favorite creature.

“One of those big fat South American types. Apparently it’s missing from its container.”

The fire instantly became a defensive exterior attack, at least for me. I had no desire to assist the brothers on the first floor any longer. Luckily they had things well under control. Overhaul was out of the question as well, and Rehab was looking good—it was well away from the house. Luckily the owner quickly located the missing reptile, which I learned while contently sipping coffee with the EMS folks.

EMS calls are not exempt. We had just started to examine a man experiencing chest pains when his dog decided to make an appearance. This was not our typical friendly pet lap dog. This was Cujo’s twin; a snapping snarling beast with dog goo dripping from his snout as he growled at us. We backed slowly away, and the animal herded us like the sheep we were away from his owner. Making it through an opening into an adjacent room, we slammed the door and then opened it just a crack to see what was happening. There sat our patient while the $5000 (in those days) Life Pak we had abandoned was being turned into an expensive chew toy. Our dog mace was in its normal spot, secured to the visor in the front of the rig—located on the opposite side of our captor. We had little choice but to wait until the victim’s wife took the now docile mutt from the room. It made us wish for a hand line. As nasty as Cujo looked, there was no way he could’ve swallowed 150 gallons per minute.

Larger animals can be less frightening, but troublesome in different ways. At a silo fire, we needed to get the cows out of the attached barn in case of extension. A slap on the ass got most of them moving, but one was a bit stubborn. Jim and I each took an end—which didn’t matter as there is no really desirable end to a cow—and began pulling and pushing. While you would think two chief officers would be smarter than and able to direct a simple cow, you would be wrong. We had as much influence on the bovine creature as we did over department dinosaurs (another interesting species). Eventually the cow tired of our attempts and decided on her own to join her cohorts in the pasture.

Animals and emergencies—such a fun combination.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gary talks Rural Water 101 at Central PA Bravest

Central PA Bravest
February 24, 2012

Rural Water 101
by Gary R. Ryman

Rural water supply operations can be successfully conducted in a variety of ways and much depends on the equipment available in a particular area. Different jurisdictions use tanker task forces, rural box alarms, and for some, these operations are part of their every day bread and butter.

Innovation and ingenuity are the catch words for these operations, but these are useless without knowledge and training. Knowing the accessible water sources, static or otherwise in your first due area is critical. Every fill site is different and setting up for the best access and maximum flexibility is always a challenge. Pre-planning and training at these sites helps to establish the most efficient positioning and fill site set-up configuration. Conducting these sessions with the neighboring departments, who will most likely be assigned this responsibility, and doing the same in their areas, makes the system work.

The rules of thumb I have found successful are based on the use of large tankers, defined as 3000 gallon and up; all designed to both fill and dump quickly. A differing equipment mix could change the equation. Committing the first due tanker or “burying” it with the first due engine has some advantages. With both pieces in close proximity, a cheater can supply and supplement the attack engine tank water. Realistically, on a one or two room fire, this should be sufficient for a knock down. Murphy, however, works everywhere.

If the situation is such that a shuttle is implemented, the utilization of the first tanker in this manner allows it to act as a safety or reserve. Once the shuttle supply has been established, re-filling the first tanker is a priority. Over the course of an extended incident, something inevitably will interrupt the operation. Losing prime, a mechanical breakdown, or any other number of things can impair the supply. With the first tanker full, operations can continue and if an interior attack is underway, allow time to affect a controlled withdrawal if the gremlins cannot be promptly corrected.

While distance, flow requirements, and tanker size, can all be used to calculate specific needs, standard rules of thumb are usually easier. For example, a separate fill and dump site for every five tankers in use is typically desirable. Stacking tankers up at either end is inefficient, and two or three tankers waiting to fill means water is not moving. Dump sites can be entirely separate or simply additional drop tanks in tandem. Such situations are tailor made for jet siphons between tanks. Having one or two extra tankers in the mix helps minimize interruptions for breakdowns. The same goes for engines.

The officer with the overall water supply assignment should coordinate closely with the incident commander on the desired flow requirements. This will help determine the number of tankers, fill and dump sites, etc. Knowing secondary and tertiary sources is important in case of problems with the primary or a larger flow is needed. Getting the water supply operation onto a separate radio channel will help keep the increasingly crowded airway clearer for fire ground personnel. Given the choice of a pumper relay from a static source or a shuttle, the relay is the default choice if distances are manageable. It takes less moving parts and hence is inherently more reliable. This is another area where training is important. Trying to set up a relay operation without having trained on it previously is a recipe for disaster. What sounds easy to do in the book is anything but at three in the morning; particularly trying to get three or four engine companies who haven’t worked together to lay and pump an extended line in a timely manner.

Dry hydrants are a big plus, but need to be installed correctly and maintained afterward with annual back flushing. Sources other than ponds and creeks should not be forgotten. Swimming pools are a great possibility. Even if not apparatus accessible, a portable pump and five minutes work can provide a nice supplementary supply. Field expedient drop tanks can be put together with ladder and salvage covers. Run off from the incident, if channeled and dammed can be collected and sent back into the fray via a portable pump. You can’t get much more efficient on the fire ground than by using the same water more than once.

Even if you only have small non hydranted areas or seldom conduct these operations, they are entirely manageable with some forethought and training.

No Porta Pond - No Problem!

Secure 3 roof ladders with their hooks and some rope and throw a salvage cover over top.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Country Firefighting Physical Fitness or....You Might Be A Redneck if...

The increased emphasis on firefighter fitness is certainly a positive and something we could all wish to emulate. The firefighter combat challenge and various local events and in-house tests include items such as rescue drags, stretching hose lines up stairwells and the like. These are good simulations of fire ground activities.

Out in the country, however, sometimes things are a little different. I’ve come up with a few physical and dexterity tests from my own experience that might form the basis for a new challenge.

Ladder Throws: This isn’t your standard carry the ladder to the building and put it up. Mine requires the weather complexities regularly seen in the northern portions of the country. The contestant must carry, place, and extend a 24 ft. ground ladder to a building, but….must do it through two feet of snow, around three pick up trucks and an old tractor with four foot drifts in pitch black darkness. Try to avoid stepping in the forgotten child’s plastic swimming pool now filled with snow and ice.

Find the O2 Wrench: This test of dexterity is conducted in the back of a dimly lit ambulance going over a pot hole filled one lane dirt road at considerable velocity. The contestant must locate, pick up, and utilize an O2 wrench from the floor of the bouncing rig which is slick from melted snow, ice and other unmentionable liquids commonly found with nauseous patients. Hands will naturally be sheathed in latex gloves…..a minimum of one size too large—‘cause the ambulance captain figures one size fits all.

The Brush Fire Jog: This is done with boots, bunker pants, helmet, gloves, and a full five gallon metal Indian tank. Contestants will compete over a two mile smoke filled course with burning stumps and logs, along with ground hog holes and the ubiquitous cow pies; up hill (both ways). Weather conditions for this will include high 90s in both temperature and humidity. The contestant who holds the nozzle low to allow the tank to drain out may not win, but is definitely the smartest.

Country Hose Load: Pack 1000 feet of semi frozen 5 inch supply line in the back of a pick-up truck to take back to the station to thaw and reload. Gloves and bunker gear will be frozen and the pick-up driver will be sure to mention how warm it is in the cab every three minutes or so. The contestant will be judged on how quickly the mass of spaghetti can be piled into the truck. Points will be deducted for lengths lost while returning to the station. Needless to say this is another night time event.

I’m sure any “seasoned” country firefighter could add to this list, and hopefully new and more challenging (and evil) tests will arise. If you’ve experienced any or all of the above….you might be a redneck firefighter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Educating the Public...Or the Local Pastor Meets the Live-ins

The fire department board of directors had a position available for a public representative. This gave the board members the benefit of some outside civilian advice and simultaneously provided the opportunity for non-affiliated community members to gain an understanding and education of the work of the emergency responders.

The new year brought a new community member to the board, the pastor of a local church. The lady minister was enthusiastic about her new responsibilities and appreciative of the services the firefighters provided.

On Valentines Day, she decided to show this appreciation by giving each of the live-in firefighters small goody bags. Rather than leave the bags in the kitchen or at the watch desk, she wanted to deliver them herself, and so proceeded into the bunk room. She walked through the open portion, already vacated earlier that morning, to a row of individual rooms assigned to some of the live-in firefighters.

She began hanging the bags on the knob of each door. One of the items in the goody bags was a container of silly string, not a great selection for a group of mischievous young firefighters. As she proceeded, one young bleary eyed live-in opened his door, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, to find the bag. Watching the good lady, he saw one of his fellow live-ins exit his room as well. The underwear clad firefighter stunned the pastor, her eyes opening wide. Her education had begun…….

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Want Good Food? Follow an Ambulance....

Driving through a neighboring town on a Friday evening, I spotted the local ambulance parked in front of a small restaurant. “They must have great food, and probably cheap,” I told my wife.

“How do you know that?” She asked.

“EMS people don’t eat anywhere bad, or expensive,” I told her. “It’s like the old cliché on how cops know where the best coffee and doughnuts are.”

We always ate good back in the day when I did my time on an ambulance. The group of us that typically covered the Saturday 11-7 shift in the late 1970s were all young guys, growing boys with healthy appetites. Down the block from our squad room was a bar called Kelly’s that also made fantastic pizza. Occasionally, someone would place a takeout order and fail to pick it up. When that happened, our phone would ring. Upon answering, a deep guttural voice would immediately begin talking with no pleasantries or discussion. “It’s Kelly. Got a pie for you. Come get it.” We’d jump in the rig and run down and he would give us whatever pizza had not been picked up. You never knew what it would be, what toppings, etc. But we got it for free. You couldn’t beat it.

Along with the Saturday 11-7 shift, we would regularly take the 7 a.m. to 12 noon shift on Sunday morning so we could sleep in if we didn’t get a run. When we finally got up at 9:30 or 10 a.m., we’d take the ambulance and go to breakfast at a nearby Friendly’s restaurant where they liked us. We’d take our time and enjoy a nice leisurely breakfast. There was an ulterior motive to this beyond good food. If we got a run while eating breakfast, obviously we would have to leave. When we returned, they would give us a new breakfast, but we’d only be charged for one. We didn’t get the two for one every week, since we couldn’t predict our calls, but we got it often enough that we made sure we were regulars there. Cops like donut shops. We liked just about anything.