Blog By: Sean Beek, Lieutenant SMFD, Marketing & Design Specialist, FireRein
Loud static and emergency tones break the silence of a quiet house in the early morning hours. The incoming message from a calm and seasoned dispatcher gives details alerting of a structure fire called in by a passerby. Another neighbouring station is subsequently toned with coordinates to assist and act as back-up to this perceivable threat.
Immediately, the covers are tossed to the side and feet hit the floor, moving in the general direction of the door with purpose and intent. Blood is now coursing through the veins and pounding loudly inside the head, the responder straining to hear any additional details of the call. The pager is drawn from its cradle and the keys are snatched off the hook in quick succession.
Answering the Call
Outside, the cool, damp air hits the nostrils and the trusty engine fires to life as the belt locks securely into the buckle. The strobe of the green light bounces off the windshield
as the dark pavement in front is lit-up by this "beacon of the brave." A checklist of sorts is shuffled like a deck of cards in the mind of the driver as they drift over familiar road winding toward the local fire hall.
As they pull into the station parking lot, they meet other vehicles with green lights acting
on reflex and Pavlovian instinct. Small details now trickle in as the responder breathes
deep knowing all occupants are safe outside and awaiting for help to arrive.
The faint smell of smoke hangs mustily in the hall as donning the heavy yet trusty bunker gear tests well-practised coordination. Boots and pants are prepared as one so feet find their resting spot in a timely manner. With shoulder straps fastened, next comes the bunker coat and then the helmet. A quick pat of the pockets affirms the gloves, tools, and the hood (or balaclava) are right where they were left after the last use.
The chief takes visual attendance and counts heads as the pairing of partners and
trucks team-up like a fast-tracked, school yard pick. The large roll doors creak open as
the apparatus rumble to life and awaken from their slumber. The driver makes their first
turn as the lights are triggered and confirmation of occupants is relayed to dispatch with
a repeat on the address. Minutes in the truck feel like long pauses in time while plans formulate about the impending actions required upon arrival.
911 markers are scanned closely from the passenger window to determine proximal distance, range and which side of the road they are turning next. As the anticipation builds, the smell of smoke is present again and there it is... from behind the cover of trees appears a bright orange glow that fills up the dark sky. Arrival is announced and the home owners and their family quickly point and wave as if to assume the valet role and best positioning. Another quick confirmation is made with the home owner to determine all are safe.
The doors of the truck open to reveal the "tools of the trade" as firefighters clamber into
air packs or SCBAs (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus). Forcible entry tools that double as search implements, like fire axes and Halligan bars, are gathered up. Hoses are pulled from the rear of the pumper truck and shouldered like bundles of large rope. The loops are dropped in sequence and flow out like ribbon across the lawn leading to the front door. Tags are gathered from helmets and entered on the large "Accountability" board. This
will now act as overview for the Chief to know where his team members are at all times.
The partner system carries on to form team assignments with a number, for example:
"Fire Team1", and a primary task is issued by the senior officer. Air pressure is noted
and radio checks and channels are dialed in to align communication frequencies.
The size-up is conducted swiftly, including the layout and nature of the structure as well
as notable hazards, propane tanks, live Hydro, construction, etc. The last of the nerves
are reined in and converted to sharp focus as "Fire Team1" enters the building on air, Alpha Side (whatever side is deemed entry side). The task is a primary search of the single storey bungalow ensuring all rooms are swept high and low to validate all occupants including pets are out of the structure. The heat is moderate to high, 300 - 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
The nozzle person leads in a crouched or all fours position while calling out as they go. Visibility is low, yet the team makes their way along hallways and rooms rhythmically with precision. Doors, windows, and other characteristics, including furniture, are noted verbally. The breathing within the mask is deep and quick at first, but soon finds a syncopated timing. The seemingly large space has now mostly been covered and checked. The last door on the Delta Side reveals high heat and, ultimately, the source of the fire. This door belongs to the garage. Other teams are notified and readied to encounter what awaits
them on the other side.
The Knock Down
The door is hot and opens with little force applied to the compromised hinges. A ball of flame and high heat drives the pair to floor as the means of egress is noted. The beast is answered by duelling back with blasts from the attack line, attempting to quench the thirst within the unspent fuel. More smoke inhibits the view, but vigilance continues while dousing with wetting agent. A communicated request for support and a back-up hose line is broadcast on the radio. As more resources arrive, the situation quickly turns in the team's favour. The "Knock Down" is in hand and fire is under control. Alarm bells literally sound as low air is indicated on the tanks supplying the vital life source. The team makes their way back out by following the lines to the door.
Salvage & Overhaul
Back outside, a full report is given to the I.C. (Incident Commander) about the
benchmarks and status of the fire. The Chief digests the findings and gathers all scene members together for a briefing and next steps. As the Chief speaks, heavy packs and
wet gear are doffed in order to cool down and hydrate. There is an underlying sense
of satisfaction and pride that comes knowing that the damage has been minimized
and held mainly to the garage. The chief applauds the all-around efforts and notes
that working smoke alarms alerted the family and they, along with the pets, were able
to escape unharmed.
Just a few sips of water and some shared pats on the back and it's back to work
for the team. "Salvage and Overhaul" awaits them now. As they begin clean up,
so does the task of sorting through remaining valuables and determining where
the source of the fire may have originated.
Clearing scene is announced, these words to dispatch and the team mean everything
as they get to continue on with their lives and day. Meanwhile, the family whom they have just served are still literally picking up the pieces. Although this is a fictional story, it is an accurate depiction of what transpires on any typical fire call. "The Brotherhood " embodies the best in those men and women willing to face this enormous and selfless path. It pushes them to their breaking point, but it also allows them to witness the best of the human spirit.
Dedicated to all those past and present who walk where others dare not.
Thank you for all you do and continue to be safe.