Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What Firefighters Really Do All Day – Part 1

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
As evidenced by the September op-ed piece in The Mercury News and frequent comments from well-meaning (or occasionally just mean-spirited) citizens over the course of my career, it’s clear that many people have no idea what firefighters do all day. They still cling to the perception that firefighters get paid for hours of leisurely activities between occasional alarms. This notion likely stems from the days when fire departments only responded to fires, which were not an everyday occurrence. But times have changed, and so has the fire service.

Most firefighters no longer have a lot of time to sit around playing cards. There is a lot that goes on “behind the scenes” at any given fire department. Here is a quick look at some of what happens at the firehouse every day. I will cover more in upcoming posts.

Incident response. Obviously, a fire department’s primary responsibility is to mitigate emergency situations. Firefighters have been referred to as “the Swiss army knives” of the emergency services because they handle a variety of emergencies, not just fires. (See my previous post here.) That translates to more incident responses (also referred to as simply “calls” or “alarms”) per shift. The time spent on each alarm includes traveling to and from the incident scene, handling the emergency, and returning equipment to service in preparation for the next alarm. The latter can include cleaning vehicles and tools, refilling air cylinders for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), topping off apparatus water tanks, and/or restocking medical supplies.

Training. Because fire departments are now all-hazards response agencies, firefighters must be proficient in more skills than ever before. That means they must spend more time training to maintain current skill levels and certifications, or to develop new capabilities. Training can consist of hands-on exercises, drills, or evolutions in which firefighters don protective gear and practice water supply, fire attack, structural ventilation, vehicle extrication, search and rescue, and more. Training can also include classroom sessions, videos, or even “what if” scenarios discussed around the lunch table. The learning never stops because skills and knowledge can literally be the difference between life and death.

Apparatus and equipment maintenance. Yes, firefighters spend a lot of time washing fire trucks. These days, new structural fire engines start at around $500,000 (and that’s being conservative). Equipment such as hose, nozzles, SCBAs, ground ladders, generators, tools, and medical equipment can add another $100,000 or more to the price. Ladder trucks can run upwards of a million dollars, more for specialized apparatus such as tillers. Keeping vehicles and equipment clean and in good working order is a matter of safety and a source of pride. But it also protects the investment that you, the taxpayer, have made in those expensive vehicles and tools.

No comments:

Post a Comment