Friday, May 22, 2009

Tactical Evolution #3

It's time for our third of four tactical tests, and this time is going to be really cool. For the last two scenarios, I've been one of the grunts, a guy focused on just one part of the overall incident. Today I've been assigned the role of Incident Commander, which means that I'll be directing the whole evolution from the side line as the first "officer" on scene.

This information, which I only received a few minutes ago, is both exciting and intimidating. I like strategy over tactics, anytime; that's my kind of thought process. However, there's a lot of responsibility involved in the IC role, and your mistakes are very glaring and evident.

But I'm never one to back down from an interesting challenge, so when it's announced I'm secretly quite thrilled to be in that role.

Because we've done so much at our burn building already, the chief tells everyone to get to their assigned apparatus and to start driving in convoy. We don't know where we're going, but we know that our next "commercial structure fire" isn't going to be in the same "commercial structure" that we've been practicing in for the last 5 months.

It should be noted that according to the NFPA standards, you aren't allowed to have a training fire in a building where you haven't given the trainees a full walkthrough. However, in a real incident there probably won't be a walkthrough time available before the fire breaks out, so the instructors got over this problem by using theater smoke and flares to simulate a live fire, choosing to give us some experience with the unknown layout problem, since we already have plenty of practice just shooting water at real fires.

So it's with excitement that we arrive at the training academy for our mutual aid department, the career department who works the metro area that our county surrounds. The instructors have us stop a ways back from the entrance while they all move in to the facility to get things prepared. While waiting, I lounge in the sun with my gear hanging open, not too concerned about heat or hydration as I won't be going into the structure myself. Every few minutes one of the other recruits in an apparatus or POV will motion me over to chat for a few minutes about the scenario that's about to start; you can tell we're still all as excited as we were for our first tactical evolution.

After maybe 15 minutes of waiting, the radio fires up as all the stations check off their preparedness:

"Dispatch, on blue?"

"..[crackle]..on blue."

"Interior Safety on blue?"

"On blue"

"Exterior Safety on blue?"

"Exterior is On blue"

"1401, on blue?"

"On blue"

"701 on blue?"

"701 is on blue"

"Dispatch, go ahead"

Time to get started:

Radio: "Commercial Structure Fire, Big Bear Blvd. Engine 1401, Engine 701, Tanker 805, Tanker 905, Squad 104, Medic 111; Commercial Structure Fire, Big Bear Blvd. Engine 1401, Engine 701, Tanker 805, Tanker 905, Squad 104, Medic 111; Commercial Structure Fire, Big Bear Blvd, cross streets of Rangeline and Dead End. Timeout 18:33 KLK 578 KJY 848

I wave as the recruits in Engine 1401 put themselves in as responding and drive up towards the building. After giving them a few minutes to get started, I start walking through the gates myself, and pull the radio on clipped to my chest close to my face:

"Columbia, this is car 1418"

"Car 1418, go ahead"

"Columbia, Car 1418 is on scene, assuming Training Center command"

Just as I'm arriving at the command post to assume my position, a new face appears next to me. It's the fire chief! The current top dog at our department is standing next to me, and he has on the same green vest and clipboard that I do, indicating Incident Command. He looks surprised as he sees my outfit, and comments quickly:

"Vizitei, are you initial command? Did you ride in on the engine?"

"No sir! I was assigned to play IC for the incident"

"Do you want to do that? Be in command, that is?"

Honestly, I do want to do it, but somehow when you're staring at somebody with that many bugles on his collar, it can be tough to articulate your exact intents and desires. My "Yes sir, it is my most compelling wish this evening to remain in command of this incident" somehow turns into "No sir, I have no preference, what do you need me to do?" by the time it reaches my mouth.

Damn. I'm probably going to be going inside now, aren't I?

Chief: "Alright, Vizitei, you'll be crew leader. Take Jones and Brandow, I want a primary search of the second story, left hand search"

Me: "Yes sir, Crew Vizitei will perform primary search 2, left hand search."

Chief: "Good, get to it".

Nothing for it now but to get to work. I quickly pull on my hood and gloves, and zip up my coat as I walk to the attack engine to pull on an airpack. As it drops onto my shoulders and I busy myself with the straps, I start thinking about the tactic ahead of us: moving hose up an interior stairwell just sucks. I remember that from the first night when the attic attack crew went up 2 stories just to be stuck in the stairwell because their hose was caught up. Now we're going to do the same thing, and hopefully come back down with a victim. However, that's the reality of this kind of work: it's tough.

I finish up my internal pep talk to myself just as I'm arriving at the door where my crew is waiting:

"Ok, guys, we're on primary search II. Brandow, take the nozzle, Jones, tools. Get on air now, let's go".

My crewmates snap their regulators onto their facepieces, and I hear their masks pressurize. They start moving up right next to the door as I call back to command to confirm orders:

"Command from Crew Vizitei"

"Crew Vizitei, this is command

"Crew Vizitei is entering side 1 for primary search II up the interior stairwell"

"Crew Vizitei, entering side 1, primary search II"


I wave to my crewmates to get inside as I hook up my mask to my airsupply and stand in the doorway. We're going to need a lot of hose to get up the stairs and around whatever rooms we find up there, so I start pulling hose into the first room, pushing about 50 feet into a coil along the ground by the door. As soon as that's in place, I follow the wall to my crew, who's already at the foot of the stairs. Already I'm breathing a bit too hard, so I concentrate on slowing it down as I help them pull the hoseline up step by step. About halfway up, we stop moving. No amount of pulling is getting us any farther, and we aren't even into our search zone yet. Signaling my 2 mates to stay where they are, I hustle back down the stairs and find that the first coupling on the line is caught around a corner. I dislodge it hurriedly, cursing the luck, and move back to the stairwell yelling "Keep Pulling!" up at the guys moving up the stairs. Just as I reach the top with them, the hose catches again. Under my breath I mutter a string of profanities while I key up my Radio:

"Command from Crew Vizitei"

"Crew Vizitei, this is command

"Crew Vizitei is unable to advance up the interior stairwell, hose is caught. We need assistance."

"Crew Vizitei, need assistance moving hose"


30 seconds goes by, then 60. Unfortunately, any victims overcome on the second story just don't have that kind of time, so I get up and bolt down the stairs again, only to make it to the front door and see that the next attack crew has laid their line directly on top of ours, making the 2nd coupling catch solid against their line. I want to yell in frustration, but I know it won't accomplish anything, so I kick their line off a little bit, grab ours, and haul into the doorway. I can see that the line is pulling up the stairs a bit, so I know my crew is moving on, and they don't have a light since our flashlight is strapped around my shoulder. Frustrated and breathing heavily, I power up the stairs a third time, arriving beside them against the back wall in the first 2nd-floor room just as they're turning around to ask for direction. grabbing each others coat tails, we spread out on the floor to search, and no sooner have I moved away from the wall than my boots come into contact with our "victim" (a big red canvas dummy). The nozzle man needs to keep his head up for fire, so Jones and I each grab a shoulder and start dragging as I key up my radio again to let command know we're coming.

"Command from Crew Vizitei"

"Crew Vizitei, this is command

"Crew Vizitei has a victim found, 2nd story, Charlie quadrent. Making exit first floor 1, side 1"

"Crew Vizitei, victim found, exiting side one"


My lungs are starting to burn. My head is acheing. Gotta keep going, though, nothing more useless than sitting back and resting in the middle of a fire. I try to set little goals in my head to keep focused. "Just a little farther to the corner, you can make it that far. Ok, now, it's only 10 feet or so back to the stairs, you'll make it". Just as we gratefully arrive at the top of the staircase, the dummy's legs get caught around the corner. I see the light on my Heads Up display blink yellow, meaning I'm down to half a tank of air.

"Grab his Legs, Jeremy!", I yell. Right now we're pushing and pulling on his trunk, and he ain't moving THAT way. Jones moves behind the victim as I get my arms under both shoulders and we start moving down the stairs one at a time. It's all I can do to stay focused, I feel like steam is forming inside my gear, pressure cooking my body. It's with great effort that we go through the pattern what seems like countless times: "one, two, three, pull!" down one step. "one, two, three, pull!" down another step. Reaching the bottom at last, I fall over backwards, tripping on a hoseline and coming to rest looking face up at a crew of 3 recruits waiting for their assignment at the front door:

"Help!" is all I can manage to yell at them as I point towards our victim at the foot of the stairs. Like the good guys they are, they don't waste a second charging in and helping haul that dummy to safety. I ask Jones to take over "CPR" while I call into command telling them that we're safe:

"Command from Crew Vizitei"

"Crew Vizitei, this is command

"Crew Vizitei has exited the structure side 1. We are par, plus one victim."

"Crew Vizitei, exited structure, par plus one"


I tear my gear off as quickly as I can manage, sighing gratefully as a cool breeze sucks some of the heat away from my body. We don't have time for a break, though.

"Crew Vizitei, rehab your air bottles and check back in with command"

Damn. I'm hurting. I don't WANT to check back in with command, I would be happy just to avoid puking. That's not the way it works, though. I repeat the order over the radio, and relay it to my crewmates, who both look amazingly un-exhausted. What's wrong with me? Why am I so tired?

I manage to drag all my stuff back to the rehab area, and I go to my knees to change out my air bottle. Somebody is trying to tell me something about my airpack, but I can hardly understand what she's saying. Why is she talking so loud? Oh well, I think, she has a lieutenant's helmet so I guess she can talk as loud as she wants. I mumble something that I hope sounds like "OK" as I swing my coat back on and throw my airpack onto my back. With my crew walking ahead of me, definitely somehow in better shape, we trudge back towards the command post.

My steps slow down, then stop. I don't feel so good. A wave of heat and nausea washes over me, and I go down to my knees for a second trying to rest enough to let it pass. It's not passing. One of my crewmates turns around and sees me. He's probably asking if I'm ok. Am I ok?

"I have to get out..." I mumble

I am definately not ok.

"I have to get out...."

I'm pushing ineffectively at my gear, trying to peel it off again. It feels like I'm drowning in heat, like I'm desperate to just have nothing against my skin. Three recruits rush over to help and my gear is soon off and I'm somehow sitting over on the grass with bottles of water surrounding me. Sombody is telling me to drink. Seems like good advice.

As a few bottles of water get pored over my head, and into my stomach, my lucidity returns. Realizing that I got overheated, I look down at the ground hoping no one else is noticing. It's a little embarrassing to be sprawled out and half collapsed while everyone else who just went through the same thing you did is standing around just fine. Glancing up, I realize that contrary to my hopes, EVERYONE is noticing, and I can now see my brother and the lead instructor for my crew sauntoring over to see what's up. One of my recruit buddies kneels next to me and asks if there's anything I need. Unhappy at the situation I'm in, I crack a wry joke:

"If you see my dignity laying over there on the asphalt somehwere I sure would appreciate it if you'd return it to me".

Now my brother is kneeling in front of me.

"You ok?"

"I've felt better."

"Did you make it out of the building first?"


"With the victim?"


"Good job. Guess you got too hot"


He smiles a bit, knowing that I'll be fine after a few minutes cooling down, and tells me to keep a cold water bottle against my groin to cool down quicker.

By the time I'm back on my feet, the tactic is over. I'm still a little shamed-faced over collapsing like that, but there's no point in dwelling on it. Pulling on my pants and helmet, I trudge over to help load the hose back on the truck. Evolution #3: partial success; I did find a few shreds of dignity discarded on the pavement after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment