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19 July 2008 @ 01:42 pm
It's usually pretty quiet in this small town - the winters sometimes give us more fire and rescue calls, what with the windy roads, ice, and hundreds of wood stoves with chimneys prone to fires.  But we've actually had five calls over the past six days (vs the usual 2 calls per week, or the recent 2 calls per month), and I'm wiped

Yesterday there was a structure fire...
and we were there for about six hours.  Sixteen firefighters from our town showed up (close to all of us), and we also called in three or four neighboring towns for assistance.  Now, mind you, out here in the back of nowhere, it's very unlikely that we'll save a structure.  If someone is home, they generally manage to put it out and don't even call us.  If no one is home.... it may take many, many hours before someone notices the column of black smoke, and calls 911.  Then there's a minute or so before we get notified, plus all of the time for each of us to drop what we're doing, race to the station for the fire trucks (I did that) or drive direct to the scene.  This place had apparently already lost the main floor and the roof before we arrived.  (If you want to have firefighters there in time to save your house, get an automatic dialer.  The disadvantage is that it will dial 911 for you every time you burn toast.)  Along with all those delays, one of our trucks can probably put the wet stuff on the red stuff (technical phrase, there) for a minute or maybe twenty, depending on how fast you want your water flowing.  And then the truck is out. 

So the key thing is to get a water supply set up, and out here in the middle of nowhere, that means finding a stream or a pond, not a hydrant.  That was my job, with Engine Two.  Have I mentioned how cool it is to be driving a beeeg fire truck?  It's cool.  It's really cool.  If I could get better at it, it would be even cooler.  (I have a tendency to get up to fifth or sixth gear, out of ten, and just stay there, because it's easier than trying to shift all the time, and I'll go only slightly irritatingly slow, but be able to stop relatively quickly; need to work on a wider range of comfort with the gears.) 

There were a few complications on the way to the water supply.  First, when you get to a scene with a truck and you need to go set up water supply, you're supposed to "lay a line" (I, thankfully, was reminded) which means having someone pull the first bit of hose off the back of the truck, and then letting the rest peel off the back as you drive forward.  I decided to watch it as I drove, and noticed that the shovels and brooms that are stored on top of the hose (there really isn't another spot for them) were periodically dropping off the truck with the hose.  I decided to let them lie in the road.  Got more important things to do. 

Half way to the pond, the last length of hose falls off the truck.  Plunk.  In the middle of the road.  Nothing more attached.  I get out and go back to check.  There really isn't any more.  Hm.  I think I had the wit to call command and tell them that I'd run out of hose, and then continued on my way, figuring that there wasn't much else I could do.  Turns out this is the right thing to do - it just never came up in training.  Various other problems occurred:  Wait - wasn't I supposed to be looking for another fire truck?  How can I have lost a huge red fire truck with flashing lights?  Well, there really isn't another one up here, so never mind.  Hey, where am I supposed to be to get access to this pond, anyway? Up the driveway? Out on the road?

Clearly, I don't have a lot of experience with firefighting, despite the four or five years on the department.  Luckily for me, two firefighters from a neighboring town (one seasoned by some years fighting wildfires out west) showed up in one of their trucks shortly thereafter, helped me find where I was going, and help with everything else.  There were multiple complications getting the water out of the pond, through our trucks, and down the hill to the fire scene, but we eventually managed.  And we were in 80+ weather (thankfully under trees) wearing a ton of fire gear.  But at least we weren't facing the wall of flames.  And I'm the one that puts the drinking water in the trucks, so I knew right where it was.

Five and a half hours later, we were finally done, although the chief and assistant went back later to make sure there were no dangerous 'hot spots.' 

I went home, slogged around, took a shower, and we ordered Chinese takeout.

Then, in the middle of the night after lightning swept through, the automatic dialer on a Famous Person's house called in an alarm, so we (three of us this time, not 16) went racing to check it out.  Far as we could tell, it was a power surge from the lighting that tripped the alarm.  No apparent fire, but the assistant chief planned to double check later this morning. 

I've driven our second fire truck to all three of the past three calls!  Definitely getting my practice.  I almost don't grind gears any more, and can occasionally meet with success when searching for a gear I need out of 'sequence'.  I'm very pleased with this last bit.  Cars are very forgiving about gears.  Big trucks are not.  You have to be going the right speed and have the rpms in the right range.  The tack (rpm) works, so that helps a lot.  The speedometer does not work, so I have to guess.  This works if I go up or down by one (second, third, fourth... or eighth, seventh, sixth) but if I'm changing speed more quickly than I'm changing gears, I need to skip one or two.... and guess.  I've managed it a few times, and didn't once in the past few days have to entirely stop the truck and start from first.  It's fun!

Is that enough fire truck geeking?

Now, it's time for a nap.
Dan Orkwisdorkwis on July 19th, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
Sounds like an exciting time. I'm sorry I couldn't be there to help out and experience it. Also, there can never be enough fire truck geeking. Andy was telling me at one call that Engine 1 can't be caught in the middle gears at all. Is that the same thing, or is it even less forgiving than 2?
betonicabetonica on July 19th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
truck geeking
I suspect Engine 1 is less forgiving than 2. They occasionally check someone out on E2. E1 is another story entirely, and they aren't even thinking about teaching me to drive it yet, despite three or four years getting erratic occasional practice with E2.

For E2, there are actually 15 gears. The low-low five are never used unless you're stuck in the mud or something, and I've never used them. The upper ten are in two sets: five gears with a switch down (not too much unlike a five-speed transmission in a car, but the distance between gears is *much* smaller), and the same shift level pattern for 6 through 10 but with the switch up. That's ten gears for zero to 50 mph or so: definitely a new experience, compared with a car.

But the pattern with the stick is pretty familiar, so that's good. Remembering whether low is up or down with that switch is sometimes an issue when I haven't driven for six months, but usually people leave it set to low. Down-shifting is another story. It is absolutely necessary, 9 times out of ten, to double-clutch, so I had to teach myself to do that.

Apparently, E1 has 10 gears (12? something), but you have to switch back and forth as you go up, e.g., something like 1Low, 1High, 2Low, 2High.... But I could be wrong about that. Other than that, all I know is that it's supposed to be much more difficult. I haven't heard the middle gear thing - I'll have to ask Andy what he meant. A few people who drive it say it's really fun to drive, but I'm not sure if that's reality talking, or machismo.

Sorry you weren't hear to play. We'll have to save a good one for you.
virgino_orsino: workingvirgino_orsino on July 19th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a lot of hot work. I'm glad you folks got help on that one fire. I'm just sorry that the fire consumed the house. But yeah, out in the middle of nowhere, it is really unlikely to save a house if no one is around.

But I'm happy you have your fire truck fix going strong. :)
betonicabetonica on July 21st, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
mutual aid
This region is *really* good for giving help to neighboring towns when they need it. I guess it's a standard thing throughout the country, but our dispatch (over in Keene) was apparently one of the first places to set up Mutual Aid. So we all help whenever we're needed, and we don't charge each other. It's pretty cool.

The fire truck fix got another hit just now, with that fantastic thunderstorm that went through an hour or so ago: the same Famous Person's house sent in another alarm (this time there was apparently a charger that was clearly fried by lightning). So I drove E2 again. :)
piranha @ dreamwidthpir_anha on July 20th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC)
sounds very adrenaline-producing. and there's never enough geeking, even if it's not my specialty, or maybe particularly so if it's not my specialty. :)
betonicabetonica on July 21st, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
Yes, definitely adrenaline-producing. We all need to learn to calm down and make sure we're thinking clearly - some more than others. I'm usually pretty good, I think, but for some reason I got a bit muddled at that scene. I suspect that when I'm much more comfortable with driving the truck (so that it isn't another complicated thing I have to do at the same time) I'll have the wherewithall to deal with the rest of the stuff more smoothly.

Got even more practice last night - yet another alarm sounding, and I was the designated person (as in, first there who was qualified) to drive engine two. Was fun.

I was talking to the assistant chief the other day, and he pointed out that we train people to actually drive the truck, and we train people how to run the pumps once they get to the scene, but we don't ever train them about laying hose, and that sort of thing. He says I should have climbed on top of the truck and dumped the shovels and brooms before starting to lay the hose. Good idea! I'll know that - and another thirty things - for the next big fire. But there will be thirty more... as is to be expected when learning complicated stuff.

I also want to work on the adrenaline thing in order to keep my blood pressure down - it's borderline, and things like that don't help. But at least I'm not like one or two others, who positively skyrocket in their annoyance that things don't go the way they want them too. There's one in every crowd. *sigh*

Selkiselki on July 20th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
Awesome fire truck geeking! Thanks!
betonicabetonica on July 21st, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
Yer verrry welcome :)
Biston Betulariapepperedmoth on July 20th, 2008 11:23 pm (UTC)
Is the Famous Person the one who has her own black fitting for her very own hydrant? Almost too bad you didn't get to use it! (In that really it was a very good thing sort of way, but it's nice to put pricey things to good use).
betonicabetonica on July 21st, 2008 02:01 am (UTC)
hydrant fittings
How did you guess?
Just went back again, an hour ago, because another amazing storm swept through and fried some equipment there, setting off the alarm again.
No one has been home, either time. This time we almost found a key holder, but they didn't make it out there before C1 & C2 decided nothing was going to burst into flame if it hadn't in the past 90 minutes, and went home.
Ellanaellana on July 22nd, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
Actually I think I was right behind the Halifax truck or something on my way to work that day. Impressive column of smoke and collection of trucks. I thought I saw some electric company trucks out there or something. You know, the yellow kind? Anyway, I heard there's no house left anymore...
betonicabetonica on July 22nd, 2008 03:13 am (UTC)
cellar holes
There is, in fact, no house left. We saved another cellar hole. You did see electric company trucks - they were working across the road, and saw the column of smoke first and called it in. That smoke was impressive - I saw it as I was coming in with engine two, and knew that we wouldn't have much left by the time we were done.

The paper today said that it might have started at an overloaded circuit in the bedroom. I should think about all of those extension cords and two-to-six outlet plugs I have around the house.