All in a day’s work: Firefighters stay busy 24/7
By Fran Odyniec
There’s more going on than what meets the eye on any given day at the City of London fire house, and other stations in Madison County for that matter.
Firefighters will sometimes bristle at the comment that they are sitting around the fire house with not much to do.
“Some people will actually think that,” said London Firefighter Shane Brintlinger of the popular misconception that all firefighters do is fight fires and loll about the firehouse.
After two years of fire school which includes basic training as an emergency medical technician, a firefighter will earn his or her certification. Once on the job, that certification must be maintained through continuing education and training which become part of a firefighter’s everyday responsibilities and duties.
In addition to responding to fire calls and the occasional EMT run, firefighters are charged with a series of responsibilities that, if not handled correctly and on a regular basis, could mean the difference between life and death.
“We have to be prepared for anything at any time,” Brintlinger continued. “The call could be a lift assist, a structure fire, a motor vehicle fire, a crash requiring extrication.”
Following is the first installment of an ongoing series that will examine what goes into the typical day of a firefighter along with the academic and practical training he or she is required to take. A lot of the activities described in this installment take place during the first half of the day.
That preparation begins with the shift change at 7 a.m. London firefighters work on a 24-hour shift rotation basis whereby a firefighter is on 24-hour duty every third day. Two crews, one for Engine 360 and one for Ladder 360, are on duty seven days a week, 365 days a year.
At 7 a.m., the shift lieutenants exchange and update each other on developments and incidents that have occurred and have been logged in on the preceding shift. The crews begin at square one.
Every piece of equipment and garment that a firefighter will pull on for a run is inspected.
“The first thing we do is to make sure our gear is working,” said Brintlinger of the 75 pounds that a firefighter carries on his or her person.
Those items include: helmet, hood, face mask, turn-out bunker coat and bunker pants, structural fire gloves and boots and the critically important SCBA.
“That’s the self-contained breathing apparatus that we rely on to breathe,” explained Brintlinger.
The SCBA includes a regulator that attaches to the face mask and the tank that contains compressed air which firefighters carry on their backs.
“The tanks stay on the truck 24/7,” said Firefighter Rob Randall, as he tested the tanks in the cab of Engine 360. “There’s a ‘bottle’ for every seat on the truck. We check them and make sure they’re ready for the next run.”
When a firefighter takes that seat, a holding bracket has a tank already in place. The firefighter then slides his or her arms through the mounting straps, firmly buckles the harness to himself or herself, and is ready to begin the attack on a fire when the crew arrives at the scene.
Each truck carries more than a hundred different tools as well as a variety of hoses which also must be checked at the beginning of a shift “to make sure that everything is in working order,” said Brintlinger.
As the morning moves on, firefighters are scheduled for continuing education and training.
“The training program is designed on a month-by-month basis,” Brintlinger said. “There are minimum training requirements set by the Ohio Fire Marshal that are mandated in order for a firefighter to maintain his or her certification.”
The master training schedule includes among other topics:
• Search and rescue overview
• Search and rescue practical applications
• Fire hose advancement
• Fire pump engineering
• Downed firefighter rescue training
All London firefighters are required to know the city almost like the back of their hands.
“We are tested on city maps,” said Brintlinger. “It’s a written test to determine firefighters’ knowledge of the streets.”
He pointed out that one of London’s firefighters, when given the address of a scene, can pinpoint the location of the nearest hydrant.
In addition to continuing education and training, London firefighters are required to partake in physical fitness exercises that include weight-lifting and cardio fitness workouts every afternoon.
Every firefighter has to know how to drive each of the trucks in London’s fleet as well as knowing how to operate a pumper, which is not just a matter of flicking a switch and opening a valve.
“We take state certified courses and continuing education in those courses,” Brintlinger said of the knowledge and skills required of a firefighter in driving and truck operations..
A pump operator must understand various nozzle pressures, the flow rate of gallons per minute, and the size of a hydrant among other factors.
According to Brintlinger, there are no “plug-in” hydrants in London.
“They are painted different colors that match the water pressure levels at that particular location,” he said.
The different designs of the hydrants also mean different size valves.
“We’ll need to use either a 2 1/2-inch or a 5-inch fitting,” Brintlinger said.
“We set a criteria of a minimum of one hour of training per shift,” he commented on the department’s training regimen, “but typically we’ll spend up to three hours a shift in education or training.”
It could mean the difference between “everybody goes home safe” and the grim alternative.