Friday, May 22, 2009

Tactical Evolution #2

Radio: "Commercial Structure Fire, Roger I Wilson Memorial Drive. Engine 1301, Engine 701, Tanker 105, Tanker 505, Squad 104, Medic 231; Commercial Structure Fire, Roger I Wilson Memorial Drive. Engine 1301, Engine 701, Tanker 105, Tanker 505, Squad 104, Medic 231; Commercial Structure Fire, Roger I Wilson Memorial Drive, cross streets of East County Road and East Prathersville Road. Timeout 18:33 KLK 578 KJY 848

Sitting in the cab of Engine 1301, I listen to the dispatch go out over our local training center channel. Our second evolution is beginning. This time I've been assigned to the attack engine as the engineer, so instead of going inside the building with my fellow recruits, I'll be operating the pump from the engine. It also means that until the first "officer" shows up, I'll be in command of the incident.

I release the air brake with one hand while I pull the radio off the dash and up to my face:

"Columbia from Engine 1301"

"Engine 1301, go ahead"

"Engine 1301 is responding, times 2"

The guys in 701 (the supply engine for this incident) give a good-luck wave to me as I ease the engine in to gear and make the loop towards the burn building. I'm a little nervous, because I know that for the first 3 or 4 minutes, everybody who shows up will be asking me for everything. Beyond anything else, I don't want to look overwhelmed; quiet competence is my goal.

I have one other recruit riding with me, Anya, the only female in our class, and as we approach we quickly split up the work that needs to be done as soon as we reach the fire. Stopping at the spot where we know the supply engine will stationed, she jumps out of the cab to pull off a supply line and leave it for them. That way, as soon as 701 shows up, they can hook up to it and be feeding us more water quickly.

As if on cue, the radio crackles and our buddies in the supply engine come on the air:

"Columbia from Engine 701"

"Engine 701, go ahead"

"Engine 701 is responding, times 2"

It takes a little longer than I expected, so while I wait for her to get back into the cab, I go over my size up in my head, wanting to make sure that my radio traffic sounds professional when I actually perform it. Then Anya is back in the cab and we pull up to the building, the supply hose playing out behind us from the bed of the truck.

The building is tall and bland, made out of concrete and other fireproof materials, with metal window coverings all shut to give all the heat, smoke, and darkness of a real structure fire. I know the coaches are in there stoking up the flames right now, but from where I'm sitting there's no outward indicator of the inferno raging inside, so I pull up the radio again and go through what I'd been rehearsing in my head ever since I got my assignment to drive:

"Columbia from Engine 1301"

"Engine 1301, go ahead"

"Engine 1301 is on the scene. This is a 2 story commercial structure, nothing showing. Make this Training Center command, all units check in on the White channel on arrival."

"Receieved, Training Center command. All responding units check in on White on arrival."

I don't have time to be pleased with myself, this is the most critical time block for a real fire. 30 seconds is how long it takes for a fire to double in size, so we need to have a hose line in there as soon as physically possible. Anya is already throwing an airpack onto her back as I switch the fire engine from drive into pump mode. Realizing that it's going to take her a few seconds to get everything on and fastened, I grab the hoseline that she'll be using off the truck myself and run it up to the building, flaking out the kinks so it will be ready and waiting for her when she is ready to go inside. Just as I arrive back at the truck to start pulling tools off for her too, Carl (one of the other recruits) shows up at my side. For this scenario, he's playing the first lieutenant to show up at the scene, so I turn command over to him:

Carl: "What do we have?"

Me: "Nothing showing yet, Tveritinova and I are the only ones on scene. She'll be leading the first attack crew"

Carl: "Have you done a 360 yet?"

Me: "..No, I'm on it!"

Damn! Missed that one. Instead of pulling tools and hose for Anya, what I really should have been doing was walking around the building to see the fire signs from all angles and to see if there were any other hazards or exposures present. No time to dwell, though. As Carl sets up his command post, I take off around the building. All the window coverings are shut tight, so not much is visible, but as I pull around the last corner I can see light smoke pushing from an attic vent on the 4th side (the right side of the building).

Getting back to Carl, I notify him of the smoke, and he tasks the first attack crew with getting inside. I make it back to the pump panel, and this is when it gets crazy:

The first attack crew is at the door. They need water. I pull open the discharge valve for crosslay-1, and the hose they're holding fills quickly with pressurized water. They're off and into the building just as the next crew on scene grabs crosslay 2 and makes for the door. I'm setting them up with water too just as the supply engine calls up on the radio asking if they can send water yet. I tell them I don't have a supply line connected yet and to hold off for just a minute. Finishing flowing for the second crew, I make my way to the back of the truck, dodging incoming recruits who are pulling airpacks and tools out of all the compartments. I almost collide with another crew who's pulling off the large 2-and-a-half hose to pull around back and make entrance through the back of the building. They ask me to hook them up with water as soon as possible, so I grab their line instead of the supply line from 701 and dash back to the panel. I'm just finishing hooking them up to one of the exposed discharge outlets as another recruit taps me on the shoulder asking urgently for a thermal imaging camera. I try to help him find one, but it looks like the first attack crew took it with them, so I send him down to the supply engine to grab theirs while I run back to grab the supply line again and get it hooked up to my tank. Before I can pull the supply line around to the inlet on my panel, the crew going in the back door is calling for water over the radio, so I drop the line again and run back to the pump, charging their line as quickly as possible while trying to remind myself to open the water gate slowly to avoid damaging any of the internals. Once they're set, I go back and grab the supply line again, and finally get it dragged around and hooked up to my pump inlet. Breathing a little heavily, I radio the supply engine and ask them to charge the supply line, which quickly makes the hose at my feet leap to life as it pressurizes against the closed inlet on my pump.

Taking a breath, I step back and examine all the gauges on the panel. All the deployed hoselines are still reading the correct pressure, my tank's about 3/4 full, there's water recirculating to keep the pump cool, the pressure relief valve is set to keep pressure spikes from hitting the guys inside: everything looks as it should. Slowly, I open the inlet valve to allow water from the supply engine to start refilling my tank, while backing off on the throttle trying to keep the discharge pressure steady as the transition takes place. Then I wait.

That's the thing about being the engineer on the attack engine: it's nuts for about 3 minutes, and from then on as long as nothing goes wrong you are basically watching and waiting. You might make some minor adjustments to keep your tank full of water from the supply engine, but basically you sit and wait for some emergency to occur (hoseline breaking, pump malfunction, etc). Fortunately for me, the rest of the evolution went smoothly. The guys inside did great, and I was able to just hang tight until everyone got back out and needed the water shut down and drained.

Although I like to keep a humble attitude when people tell me I did a good job, in my mind I was grinning from ear to ear. I'd count this one a success.

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