4 Busy Days in Chicago With Snorkel Squad 1
From Texas, where the busiest company may make 10 runs a day, Jay Heard, Tarrant County fire training officer, and I took a four-day look at a company that averages 20 to 25 runs a day year-round.
Riding with Snorkel Squad 1, one of the busiest fire companies in the country, we learned why Snorkel Squad 1 earned its title, the Green Berets.
Chicago’s SS 1 revolves around a 50-foot elevating platform on a Mack MB series chassis. Accompanying the Snorkel on all alarms is a small highpressure truck which is used as a quick, hard-hitting unit pending arrival of heavy-duty pumpers.
Special equipment carried
Most of the special equipment needed in any fire, from rescue equipment to fire fighting equipment, is carried on SS 1. Special equipment includes the Hurst Tool, for extrication from autos, and exotic forcible entry equipment, such as the Jet-Ax explosive entry device. Other equipment that might be called upon in emergencies are specialized acid suits or aluminized entry suits. The diversity of specialized equipment and highly technical skill found in SS 1 makes it evident why it is called to every fire which has the possibility of needing these unique capabilities.
Arriving in Chicago at 6:30 p.m., we Texans quickly located SS 1 quarters on Orleans Street. Having made prior arrangements through William E. Quinn, assistant fire commissioner in Chicago, we were met by the company officer, who assigned us places to ride on SS 1.
Locating our gear in the assigned places, we anxiously awaited our first alarm. What would it be like to ride with SS 1? After the first hour of apprehension, Heard and I answered our first call. Unexpectedly, we noticed the relaxed atmosphere of the men mounting the equipment. When you answer 20 to 25 calls a day, responding to an alarm is routine and less confusing and excitement-oriented than most other fire company alarm responses.
Our first alarm was canceled before we arrived on the scene. It was soon realized that cancellations are common for SS 1. As in any department, if the first unit on the scene can handie the call, it will then cancel all other responding equipment.
We soon learned that the alarm transmission system in Chicago is a governing factor on the number and type of responses made by SS 1. The first alarm transmitted is generally a still alarm, which calls for two or three engines and one or two trucks. If the fire is large enough to warrant calling for additional equipment, the next alarm transmitted is usually a box alarm. This doubles the response of the still alarm. As in any other major city, if the fire increases, multiple alarms, second, third or more, are transmitted.
The area covered by the still and box alarms for SS 1 is many times larger than that of any other company in the city. In addition to answering alarms in its assigned area, SS 1 responds to every second alarm in the city, any auto wreck involving entrapment, and any emergency in the city requiring its special equipment or expertise. The age of many buildings in Chicago and the special problems that arise in a city of its size contribute significantly to the number of second and greater alarms requiring response by SS 1.
Action really picked up about 7 p.m., when we experienced our first burner. A frame 23-car garage attached to the rear of an apartment was fully involved upon arrival. The fire was soon controlled by two or three lines from the engine companies and the high-pressure rig from SS 1.
Overhaul left to others
In contrast to the traditional drudgery of overhauling a fire, SS 1 quickly reloads its equipment and goes back to service, leaving overhauling to the regular companies. Over half of our responses on SS 1 were made while returning to the station or immediately upon reporting back in service. After 10 responses to minor fires or canceled responses, we sat down to our first meal. It was soon learned that SS 1 men seldom complete a meal.
The 28th floor of a high-rise was the scene of our first box alarm answered with SS 1. The first engine company arriving at the 30-story complex called for a box alarm after seeing smoke billowing from windows on the 28th floor. When SS 1 arrived on the scene, two engine companies were laying out to hook up to the standpipe for additional water supply to the fire floor. SS 1 men quickly moved to the fire floor to assist with fire fighting operations. The fire was contained to one apartment with smoke throughout the 28th floor. In most Texas cities, a fire of this nature would be considered a major fire. However, it was handled in Chicago as a routine fire with only a box alarm assignment.
Back in the SS 1 dormitory, Heard and I settled into our neatly made beds to round out the night. In a matter of minutes, we learned that SS 1 dormitory beds are only nap pallets. To catch a 30-minute nap between runs is a cherished experience.
Alarms at 6 a.m. seem to be a tradition. SS 1 responded to a still alarm that became a box while en route. A three-story apartment building was totally involved upon arrival. Companies arriving laid many lines and knockdown was made after a few minutes of hard fire fighting. SS 1’s crew provided its routine duties of ventilation and forcible entry.
23 Alarms answered
Totaling the score for our first night, Heard and I found that we had answered 23 alarms from the time of our arrival until the changing of the morning shift. We welcomed the relative slowness of the daylight hours to rest up for the night to come.
Having set our pace for the three days to follow, we answered over 100 runs with the Green Berets of the Chicago Fire Department.
Anyone seeking the experience and excitement of responding to diversified fires, such as numerous high-rises, many multiple alarms—including three in succession one evening— chemical emergencies, and also wrecks, has only to spend a few days riding with SS 1. Experience gained from first-hand involvement with SS 1 cannot be bought or obtained in any other manner.