Thursday, August 20, 2009

"What the fu&% are they doing?" I ask Joe as we watch the Captain and the Firefighter dismount E31 and walk to the back of the unit. It's 9:30 p.m. and we are staging for a ringing alarm at an old high school that has been converted into a community center. We continue to watch as the rookie firefighter is shown the finer points of taking a hydrant and of removing a manhole from the middle of the street. Richard adds a few comments through the intercom. He is in the tiller box at the back of the truck.

This community center is one of those places whose fire alarm is always going off and, as a county owned facility, we can't really fine them so the false alarms keep rolling in. We know that this is another false and we will be released soon. Sure enough, a few minutes later and all units are cut loose. We take the ladder truck up the street and hang a quick u-turn before heading back down the street.

For those of you who have never seen a tractor-tiller ladder truck flip a u-turn, it is amazing how little space is required to turn one around. They use less space than an engine, despite being twice as long. It is a beautiful thing.

We wait and let E24 and the squad go in front of us, then head back out toward the highway. We pass E31, who is still having a "company drill moment" on the side street. Although I remember this as a cold evening, we stop and watch as the rookie is schooled in the dark. It is a little unusual for this type of activity to occur this time of night, but it's not out of line. We have a few laughs at the rookie's expense and then head back to the warmth of the station. It must also be noted that this is a brand new captain and that this rookie was his first.

A few days or weeks later, we are finishing up dinner at the "Big House of Pain". We are at the huge table laughing it up at the plight of the same poor rookie, who has had the misfortune of ending up with a captain that probably has the highest energy level of anyone in our organization. Frankly, I would rather have a captain that has an overly high energy level rather than an overly low one, but I would likely hate life while I was going through it.

After the kitchen is cleaned, Engine 31 loads up and heads out for a night drill. Our agency requires that each unit participate in two night drills every year. In years that have a lot of probationary personnel, this isn't a problem, as units are clamoring for drill time and will take it whenever they can get it.

It is now one a.m. The company phone rings, its shrill tone sends my stomach through my head as I grope for the receiver.

"This is Betty in radio" a gleeful voice states. "Is the engine in quarters?" she asks, "we can't raise them on the radio".

I can tell she is happy about waking me up. I put her on hold and slide down the pole to the apparatus floor. The vacant spot next to the truck company tells me that the engine is not in quarters. I go to the app-floor phone and give the news to dispatch.

Betty tells me that they last heard from Engine 31 about ten P.M. when they asked for a tactical radio channel to use on their drill. Efforts to raise them had not been successful in the hours since. Radio knows where they are drilling, but are unsure what to do about it. I advise her to contact the District Commander in the area where they are supposed to be, maybe he can run out to take a look. There is nothing I can do about it, so I go back to bed.

I awaken to the sound of the rear app-floor door come up an hour later and stick my head out into the hall when I hear boots coming up the stairs.

"Where the hell were you guys?" I ask the engineer from E31.

It is obvious that he is a very tired man. He has been up for 20 hours, the last six or so were spent training a rookie at a soon to be demolished county facility. He tells me that they had made contact with the deputy that was guarding the place; he allowed them to us this multi-building complex to drill.

It was the ideal drill ground. You could pull hose, ladder buildings, force doors, search and performed salvage operations all day (or night) long. There were still a lot of furnishings in the building which added realism. They weren't really worried about damage as long as building security was maintained and no glass was broken. The whole complex was destroyed a few months later to make way for a shopping mall.

Engine 31 had disappeared into the bowels of the main structure and had performed many evolutions. The thick concrete and masonry walls had prevented radio signals from alerting them that they were being looked for. The highly energetic Captain had opted to continue to drill, despite the extremely late hour.

Radio had sent an engine from the area to check on them. Apparently, it took some time to find the missing crew, even after spotting the parked engine.

The event sparked much discussion within our agency. The merits of extended drills, drilling after midnight and the effects of crew fatigue were discussed, as was whether any benefit from training while exhausted was obtained. I don't think any definitive conclusion from these discussions was ever reached.

Although I think that there is some benefit from these type training sessions, I don't think that they should be a standard practice. As far as I know, no unit within our agency has drilled like this again.

This event came to mind today, I had lunch with the "rookie" that was the subject of this story. He is no longer with our agency. He was forced to retire early a year or so ago after being diagnosed with a serious illness. After finishing probation, he went to another district for a while before ending up on my crew at our old station. We worked together for quite a few years before his retirement. He may in fact read this, I told him about this blog under the condition that he keep it a secret.

I hope he makes a full recovery, time will tell. Regardless, I sure enjoy sharing old times over a nice plate of pasta.

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

  1. I hope he does recover. I'll send prayers his way.

    I've seen my dad (a captain in a big FD) chew out quite a few rookies but I don't think they make a habit of night drills. Anything the rookies can mess up at night, they can still mess up during the day.