As we roll into the fall, many firehouses across the country are full of chatter about fantasy football teams. Statistics are spewed back and forth between members with ease, from receptions to rushing and passing yards to touchdowns scored. It’s amazing to watch the energy members put forth while they study and prepare for the season. Let’s hope they put as much energy into their real-life occupation as they do for a fantasy season win.
When you show up for work or drill night, are you on time and ready to go? Being punctual and prepared is one of the best attributes you can be known for. This way, the day you’re running late or you mismarked your calendar, you get a phone call asking if everything is okay. Inside the firehouse (you notice many of us call it a house and not a station), you live here for hours at a time. You’ll eat, sleep, and use the bathroom’s shower and toilets and, if you’re wondering, they don’t clean themselves.
Another funny thing that every one of us has come across is a half-empty cup of coffee, water, or soda sitting somewhere. Many times, the bells go off and it’s put down on the workbench, gear rack, or kitchen table. Most likely, someone forgot about it during the run or, in some cases, was just lazy and left it there. That doesn’t mean you should just keep walking by it the entire tour. It’s okay to grab it and put it in the dishwasher on your next pass.
Every day, firefighters should strive to do something extra in the firehouse. It could be something simple like straightening up the recyclables or sweeping the apparatus floor. Remember, a clean shower is much better and more appealing to get into than a recliner. A little work each day by everybody mimics the way we’ll work together on the fire floor. If you have aspirations of being a notable firefighter, each day you come in, tackle another project to keep yourself busy. You don’t have to say a word; actions speak louder.
Instructors and officers always like to see the “step-up” individual who is willing to jump in and work with a tool or be the first to do an evolution. It’s not about being overconfident; it’s about the willingness to learn and participate. If you do mess up, it’s better to do that in a drill than on the fireground. There are many types of drills, from lectures to tabletop exercises, chalkboard talks, and ones that require hands-on application. If you’re unsure of a tactic or have a question, now is the time to ask and learn or be reminded. There’s no need to be embarrassed or worry what others are going to say behind your back. They’d want you to be able to hook up the rapid intervention pack into their air cylinder properly if they were running out of air. We all were new on this job at some point in our careers. There’s a lot to learn and remember, and if we’re not constantly exposed to some of the material, it’s easy to forget.
One of the best compliments a firefighter can get from a boss is he’s always in the right place. Know the duties of the position you’re assigned; get there and perform the required tasks that can help make everything flow smoothly on the fireground. Being out of place and not in position when required can and will have negative effects on company operations and firefighting tactics. Often, we’ll be assigned a less-than-glamorous position, and we must not decide it would be a good time to do some freelancing. These positions are important and must be staffed and the required duties performed at all times.
If you’re assigned the nozzle position, ensure you have a lead length at the front door so you can reach the fire. When assigned the roof position, travel to the roof by an adjoining building or wing (if isolated stairs are present); a ladder (aerial, tower, or portable); or, as a last resort, a fire escape with access to the roof. When you’re delayed or encounter an obstacle, let others know so the position can be filled by another unit. Radios are given to us for these reasons; a boss will feel much better hearing you’re delayed than hearing nothing at all.
After a Job
When you get back to the firehouse, it’s easy to run to the air bottle compartment, unload the empty bottles, and fill the air bottle compartment with fully charged ones. Hopefully, before you disconnected the air tank, you washed the bottle off and the self-contained breathing apparatus harness of debris and contaminants. In this day and age, we need to be more focused on cleanliness than we’ve ever been before. With cancer rates soaring among those in our occupation, cleaning things off before we work on them isn’t a bad idea at all.
After you’ve replaced the cylinders with full ones, start decontaminating the face pieces. Even if you were a relief unit and just washed down the fire room or did some overhaul, still clean them. Dust and soot particles can be very minute and not be seen by our eyes. Washing and disinfecting the face pieces ensure they’re ready for their next use.
While this is going on, wash and clean the tools too. A light coating of oil on the head of the tools can help prevent rusting and adds to the cleanliness of a tool ready for service. Leaving hunks of hardened plaster or debris on tools makes them harder to push through the ceiling the next time. A tool’s cleanliness is all about its serviceability and ability to be put in service at a moment’s notice.
We operate on a very dangerous playing field. Being competent in all our duties will surely bring us up to MVP status and make us the firefighters others count on.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 36-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC International Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos.