A temporary firefighter
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.
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.