Friday, May 22, 2009

Tactical Evolution #4

Our final tactical scenario is here. After recovering from some mild heat exhaustion from our third scenario, I'm given the job of being the engineer for engine 1401 on this last structure fire. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoy pumping, so I'm looking forward to this.

Climbing into the cab, I glance around at the crew on board with me. 3 other recruits, all shoving their shoulders into the seat-mounted SCBA brackets, ready to pile out and fight fire as soon as the air brake deploys. I can't help pointing out here that I love this stuff.

The dispatch quickly comes out over the radio, and it's become very familiar by this point:

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

Letting off the air brake with one hand, I use the other to press the talk button on my headset radio:

Engine 1401 Responding, Times 4

We're only a short way up the street, so it's only 60 seconds or so before we're parked in front of the building. The other recruits pile out as I transmit my size up back to "joint":

Columbia from engine 1401

1401, go ahead

Engine 1401 is on scene. 2-story commercial structure, light smoke showing, mark this Training Center command, all units check in on the white channel on arrival

receieved 1401, establishing Training Center Command, all units check in on white.

As I jump out of the cab, I come face to face with the other three recruits who rode in with me, all with airpacks on and ready to go. I quickly grab their accountability tags from their helmets:

"Alright, you guys will be Crew Schaefer. Take crosslay 1, enter side 1, do interior fire attack and primary search 1. "

"Crew Schaefer will enter side one for interior fire attack and primary search 1"


The lingo feels stilted, but it means we know what to say and what it means. The three of them run off around the other side of the truck while I throttle up the pump and wait for them to be ready for water. It doesn't take long before I see Jeff's hands in the air, so I pull the gate for their hose and watch my pressure gauges as the line charges with water. Just then, the fire chief taps me on the shoulder. Prepared for the transfer of command, I hand him the tags for each of my crewmates, and tell him what they're doing. He nods briefly, everything going according to plan, and radios into "joint communications" that he now has command of the incident. Knowing that more people will be coming in soon, I grab a tarp from the engine and lay it on the ground, then start throwing every air pack and tool I pull off the truck onto it. This way no-one will have to dig for anything, every item they need will be in that staging area. The radio in my hand crackles as the supply engine declares itself on-scene. I know they'll be grabbing the hydrant right now, so I start pulling off my supply line for them to hook up to. Estimating about a 200 foot distance, I pull the first 2 sections of hose of the back of the bed and break the connection, dragging the near end over to my pump and hooking it up to the inlet. 30 seconds later, I realize I've made a big mistake. The recruits from the supply engine are taking the other end of the hose to their truck, and it's definitely not going to be long enough. Dammit, should have waited.

oh well, they're trying to make the best of it, stretching that thing as far as it will go. I'm considering pulling down another section of hose, but there are 2 more crews around me asking for stuff, so i have no time to worry about it. One crew is taking the second crosslay in to go down the stairwell, so I charge their line, and gate down the first crosslay to equalize the pressure. At the same time, another crew wants to pull down the horseshoe load to take around the side of the building. I tell them to go ahead and pull the hose down, and I hustle around the far side of the truck and open an outlet for them to hook up to.

"Reddick, I've taken the cap off discharge 3!"

"Discharge 3, got it"

before long they're attached, and they want water too. Unfortunately, it's at that exact moment that the coach standing over my shoulder says "your tank is dry".

I look up at my tank gauge: 3/4 full. Confused, I turn to the coach and motion towards the gauge that indicates I am definitely NOT out of water, but he places his gloved hand over the indicator and insists again that the water is gone. Not wanting to argue, I pull the radio from my shoulder:

Command from engine 1401

1401, go ahead

1401 is apparently out of water

The chief is clearly unhappy

.....ok.....1401 out of water

The guys on the supply engine are still struggling to get the too short hose I pulled positioned so that they can get water to us, so until they figure it out, all the crews are effectively stuck outside the building, as you can't go in without a charged hoseline.

2 minutes go by. Three. Finally my inlet hose charges up, and I quickly tell command that we're flowing again. Without losing any time, all the staging crews charge inside and get back to work.

It's all over too soon, really. The recruits are back outside, all the dummies rescued, all the fire out. That was it, our very last piece of training. Supposedly, we're now ready to go out and do this for real. The chief calls us back around, and we talk about upcoming graduation and beyond. Are we really ready to do this?

Looking around, there's no way to give a good answer for that yet. Training is one thing, but under the real pressures of a real call, it could all fall apart. Only experience will tell. I'm truly excited to get out there and find out.

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