A tem­po­rary fire­fighter

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

I had no idea what I was get­ting my­self into when I signed up for an evening with the Car­bon­ear Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment.

It was 22 C and muggy out­side on Wed­nes­day, Sept. 30, warmer than an av­er­age lateSeptem­ber day.

I climbed into a set of heavy boots, which I could barely lift off the ground. In fact, my en­tire out­fit weighed 20 pounds. I hauled up the pair of beige pants and placed the sus­pender straps around my shoul­ders.

As I strug­gled to lift my feet, a cou­ple of the fire­fight­ers, in­clud­ing the depart­ment’s only fe­male fire­fighter who was nice enough to loan me her gear, said I’d get used to it. They were wrong.

Once I was en­veloped in the heavy suit and had my hel­met ad­justed, I en­sured I had my cell phone tucked away in my breast pocket — you know, for those once in a life­time self­ies. I was all set to head out on the fire truck.

I had no idea at the time what I was go­ing to be do­ing. But when the aerial lad­der truck was cho­sen for my ad­ven­ture, I knew I was in for a treat.

The aerial lad­der truck is one of the new­est ve­hi­cles in the fleet and the largest. It has a 100-foot lad­der, acts as a tem­po­rary pumper and has plenty of ac­ces­sories to fight fires. And I was taught how to op­er­ate it. Ev­ery­thing on the truck is la­beled well and Tom Craw­ford was the lucky one to show me how each lever worked. But it’s far more com­pli­cated than just push­ing but­tons.

Ev­ery time the lad­der is be­ing used, there’s an op­er­a­tor and at least one spot­ter. The spot­ter will be able to help guide the lad­der to the right place, whether it’s on a roof or above a fire. I wasn’t able to test the hose at­tached to the lad­der, but that’s ok. I got the next best thing.

Have to be fast

Many peo­ple be­lieve that be­ing a fire­fighter in­volves hop­ping into gear, tak­ing a truck to a fire scene and putting out a fire. What many don’t know is there’s a lot more to it.

There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent size hoses, but for my train­ing they used the smaller two-anda-half inch one. They told me it takes sev­eral fire­fight­ers to lift a fully pres­sur­ized large hose, so I’m glad I didn’t have to try that.

Stand­ing with 35-year fire­fighter Brian Green be­hind me, I grasped the fully pres­sur­ized hose with two hands. I let the air out and slowly pulled the noz­zle back to full power. It was hard. The hose con­trolled me, but with the help of Brian and Tom, I was able to keep it steady.

In less than three min­utes, the en­tire 300-gallon tank was empty.

“We have less than three min­utes to hook up our equip­ment to the near­est fire hy­drant or wa­ter source be­fore we run out of stored wa­ter,” ex­plained Derek Ash, a 20-year vet­eran of the depart­ment, who is also the train­ing of­fi­cer. He joined us at the hose.

Three min­utes to hook up a few hoses? Sure, I could do that. At least that’s what I was think­ing. Boy was I wrong.

My next train­ing ex­er­cise in­volved hook­ing a hose to a hy­drant. I had never seen one in ac­tion be­fore, so I was ter­ri­fied I would get drenched. For the next 15 min­utes, Brian, Derek, Tom and the last of our crew, Jimmy Harris, showed me how to prop­erly open a hy­drant, hook up a hose and fill up the truck. What took me 15 min­utes usu­ally takes two fire­fight­ers a cou­ple min­utes. But it was my first time.

I was phys­i­cally ex­hausted. It was hot and sticky in the uni­form, and at one point I got a lit­tle light­headed. It was then I de­cided I was not cut out to be a fire­fighter.

Other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

There are many things a fire­fighter is re­spon­si­ble for, in­clud­ing the equip­ment and sup­port­ing their fel­low mem­bers. There’s also plenty of train­ing to look af­ter.

Derek has the equiv­a­lent of about six months of fire­fighter train­ing, in­clud­ing spe­cial­ized cour­ses to drive the aerial truck and safety cour­ses. All the train­ing they take part in is doen on their own time. Sev­eral new mem­bers took a week va­ca­tion time from their jobs last year to train. Fire­fight­ers are def­i­nitely ex­pected to ded­i­cate more than a few hours a week when they sign on.

“There’s a lot more go­ing on at the sta­tion than a bit of train­ing,” Chief Brent Sweeney ex­plained.

In fact, dur­ing the 30 min­utes I sat in his of­fice to briefly chat, more than a dozen times he had to be in­ter­rupted. But that’s just part of the job.

“We have a lot of ded­i­cated guys here,” said Keith Keough, the sec­ond as­sis­tant chief, not­ing many of the mem­bers are long term, ded­i­cated fire­fight­ers.

But that’s not to say they don’t get open­ings. In fact, they are ac­tively seek­ing to fill one seat in their 40-per­son brigade. It’s nor­mally work or fam­ily com­mit­ments that lead to mem­bers hav­ing to step aside, Brent said.

What I did

Some of the other things I got to take part in in­volved rolling a hose the proper way, ver­i­fy­ing the equip­ment and — my favourite part of all — driv­ing the truck. Un­der Derek’s su­per­vi­sion, I was able to move the truck some 30 feet across the Home Hard­ware park­ing lot.

As a res­i­dent of Car­bon­ear and an em­ployee of The Com­pass, I have a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the fire de­part­ments in the re­gion. The Car­bon­ear depart­ment is es­pe­cially close to me be­cause I know many of the mem­bers per­son­ally through com­mu­nity con­nec­tions and my par­ents.

It was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence tak­ing on the role of fire­fighter for a few hours, and one I wouldn’t mind do­ing again. And I have been in­vited back to do a few more train­ing ex­er­cises. But the ex­er­tion it takes, the strength and the abil­ity to use the equip­ment and be­ing able to work as a team takes a lot of prac­tice.

I don’t think I would make a good fire­fighter, but I know that Car­bon­ear, and all the com­mu­ni­ties cov­ered by a vol­un­teer fire depart­ment, are in good hands.

So this week, which is Fire Preven­tion Week (Oct. 4-10), re­mem­ber your fire­fight­ers, know the hard word and ded­i­ca­tion they put into pro­tect­ing you and your neigh­bours and if you get a chance, thank them for all they do.


Com­pass re­porter Melissa Jenk­ins hooks up a hose to a nearby fire hy­drant dur­ing train­ing with the Car­bon­ear Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment.


Jim Harris (left), Brian Green (sec­ond from left), Derek Ash (right) and Tom Craw­ford (not pic­tured) of the Car­bon­ear Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment joined Com­pass re­porter Melissa Jenk­ins on a firetruck to learn the ba­sics of fire­fighter train­ing.


Derek Ash (left) and Brian Green (right) help Com­pass re­porter Melissa Jenk­ins aim the pres­sur­ized fire hose on the Home Hard­ware park­ing lot dur­ing train­ing.

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