first responders

KN, p. 227 “What kind of fire truck is that?”


Several of our pals are firefighters so when we visited the North Carolina cousins, we made sure to stop by the South Atlantic Fire Rescue Expo in Raleigh. We had a blast looking at all the trucks, and I mean ALLLL the trucks, big and small. It’s a terrific family event, with demos all day long, classes for the working firefighters and other rescue personnel, and opportunities for the money guys in the departments to plunk down orders for new, specialized trucks.


Heavy Duty Rescue Truck

When a fire truck rolled down the street, I never used to pay attention to what kind it was. Red was all I remembered as it passed by. Turns out, there are many different types, designed for distinctive situations. Fires are not always the same. There are industrial fires, apartment building fires, private home fires, brush fires miles away from a water supply…and more…so there are a variety of trucks to fit the needs.


On the TV show, “Chicago Fire,” two of the teams at the fire station are assigned to different trucks and have different responsibilities – the men and women on squad and the men and women on engine. They even sit at different tables when relaxing between calls. The squad fire truck has extra material and equipment (big ladders and other tools) for ground support, rescue, and site cleanup. It’s usually more specialized than the fire engine and would be called out for structure fires. The fire engine has hoses and water to fight the fires and is usually the first one sent out to a scene.









The multiple hoses needed are called ‘lines’ at the fire. If they kink while being used, the water won’t flow, so the engine has ladders and equipment to aid in the positioning of the lines, along with the smaller equipment the fire station considers important for the area/fires being fought.


Need more light at the scene for those difficult night fires? The Nightscan can be mounted on the trucks to light up the ground around the work area.



Here are a few of the firefighting vehicles we saw:

Heavy Duty Truck with Aerial Lift

The Heavy Duty Rescue trucks are generally 17’ or longer and carry about 4,000 pounds of equipment. That equipment will vary depending on the type of fires or rescue duty the firefighters face in their region. It might be rigged for wet or dry situations, hazmat, search and rescue, incident command, or even be set up for S.W.A.T. teams, and more. They are built to suit the demands of the purchasing city.


Aerial Truck with Basket

The Aerial trucks are the ones the crowds like to see in action. Small towns with no industrial plants or high rise apartment buildings would rarely, if ever, need one, but big cities often do. The price tag on a new, customized Aerial truck can reach a million dollars, and take over two months to construct, but even so, there is a waiting list at some truck companies of more than six months. While we were at the show, a similar big boy to the one in the photo was sold and paid for. The city had waited a while to get it into the town budget, and considered it a necessary tool for fighting industrial fires and below grade rescues, etc. in their miles long, multi-use municipality. The Aerial truck picture above shows a ladder that extends 100 feet when needed. Some extended ladders have baskets/boxes at the top end for the firefighter to stand in, but many do not.


When that ladder is extended, there are stabilizing ‘legs’ (outriggers) that pull out to keep the truck rock solid steady.


The Aerial trucks in this photo have their ladders extended the full length of their design – one reached 107 feet.


Rotary Lift

That’s a full-sized truck securely supported by this Rotary Lift. Before these came along, trucks had to be driven to the closest service area when needing to be worked on. It’s not like you can drive one of the trucks into your local car dealership or gas station, so the drive might have been 200 miles each way. Now, the Rotary Lift can be transported to the local fire station. Much easier, and most likely a faster turnaround for repair.


Tanker Truck









Sometimes, water is not available at the scene. There are trucks specially built for carrying thousands of gallons to areas with no central water supply.


ATVs are used in places that the big trucks can’t go. This one is used at area football games and can carry a Stokes style basket, as well as a hose (and liquid) to put out a small fire.


This 1905 Steamer is fully functional after having been restored in 2012. It cost $4,500. in 1905.


This year’s Fire Prevention Week messages apply all year round. 80%  of U.S. fire deaths happen at home each year, and the actual count had risen from previous years. With that in mind, most Fire Safety campaigns focus on home fire prevention:

  • Look for places fire can start
  • Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm
  • Learn two ways out of each room


Stay safe everyone!


*Photo credits above: taken by Patti Phillips at the 2018 Fire Rescue Expo, Raleigh, NC.


One of the Kerrian’s Notebook readers sent us this photo:

Courtesy of Ken Shoemaker:
“These firefighting vehicles are at the Cooksville Station of the Octavia Fire Protection District in Illinois. Our 1995 tanker pumper front mount pump on a Peterbilt chassis holds 3000 gallons with a front mount pump. It was the first 3000 gallon tanker pumper in central Illinois. We can put 6000 gallons of water on a structure before we drop a porra tank.”




KN, p. 223 “Underwater Evidence and Recovery: Searches”


Part 2 of “Underwater Evidence and Recovery” covers some of the search methods available to rescue and recovery dive teams.

Read Part 1: “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies” here.


Evidence has been found and tagged with rope and buoy.
The evidence team works together to place the evidence in the container while underwater.












The divers each have different roles. In a three member team, one does the bagging and tagging and the other has primary responsibility to bring the evidence or a body back. The divers try to stay with the bag on the way up, so it doesn’t get snagged on rebar, fish hooks, or other debris known to be present in ponds and swamps. The large pond near my house has castoff evergreen trees around the edges – great hiding places for fish, but tough to work around when moving retrieval equipment near them.


One search method for remains thought to be in shallow, but cloudy, ponds is to form a ‘skirmish line.’ The team members lock arms and walk the area, to see if they can bump into the body. In deeper water, grappling hooks might be used if there is a suspicion that a body is snagged on a log or other large object. Sometimes, people drown in their cars after going off a road, and must be extricated before the car is towed out.


As upsetting as it might be to the families of missing loved ones, searches cost money. The men and women in charge of the searches must weigh their past experience in finding people under different circumstances and decide when to call it off officially.


Highly experienced divers have found bodies and evidence at a depth of fifteen feet, where it is extremely cold and almost pitch black. It’s not always possible to recover anything at that depth, with currents, storms, or toxic waste in the mix.


Searches are conducted with ropes because of the zero visibility. The bottoms of lakes are silky and murky and the divers see shades of dark. Lights don’t help because they bounce off particles in the water. The divers have to work by feel.


During training, already certified divers practice evidence recovery in clear water, then duplicate the exercise in black water. Some practice dives are done while wearing blackout masks. Trainees have been known to close their eyes and hum when getting used to the darkness. As one diver said, “It’s scary down there the first few times.” The job is definitely not for everyone. I certainly couldn’t do it!


A recovery buoy is attached to the evidence container.


The procedure after finding evidence or a body is to bag it while still in the water. The body bag has fine mesh on side to let the water out, but not the evidence. A design improvement created 6 points of attachment to lift the body bag, allowing more stability during the lift.


For a drowning, the divers buoy the body. For a homicide, the divers wait with a body bag and buoy it. Attaching a buoy allows for easier lifting.


Once out of the water, a record of the chain of custody is kept on the outside of the bag by the Medical Examiner.



Experts say that drowning deaths can be avoided by following some simple rules:


“Ninety percent of our fatalities could be prevented if they were wearing a life jacket (while boating),” North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Hannah Shively explained.


If you see someone in distress, try and throw an object towards them, whether it’s a stick, fishing pole, cooler, or life jacket, to pull them to safety. Don’t let yourself or anyone else become a statistic.



*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations and to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events.




KN, p. 222 “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies of Water”


Warning: article contains details about dead bodies.

Crime scene tape has been posted around your favorite big pond or lake and nobody can get on/in the water until it has been searched. What has happened? Perhaps a body has been sighted underwater by a swimmer, or a fisherman has snagged something suspicious on his hook. A violent crime may have been committed in the area and the police are looking for discarded weapon(s). Or a report has come in to the police station about a missing person, and that missing person may have been seen in the vicinity of the water. Law enforcement is already on the case and if the crime scene tape is up, along with officers conducting an investigation, then a dive team is most likely working your formerly peaceful spot.


The USA has a great many lakes and assorted other bodies of water, both natural and man-made. Just a few examples:

Alaska: over 3,000,000 lakes (yes, 3 million)

Minnesota: 10,000 lakes (it’s even written on the license plates)

New Jersey: 366 named ponds, lakes, and lagoons

North Carolina: 78 named lakes as well as several bays, sounds, and hundreds of ponds.

Texas: over 200 large lakes and reservoirs.


When that many bodies of water are part of the landscape, it makes sense that the Sheriff’s Department (County law enforcement) and First Responders have teams that specialize in underwater evidence and body recovery. Why the Sheriff’s Department? It’s not about deep pockets financing the operations, it’s all about jurisdiction and best use of available resources. Many large lakes cross town lines, and the Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction in all the towns in its County. No need to duplicate personnel, when prevailing thought is that one or two teams per County will be able to handle the job of underwater evidence and body recovery.


Note: the local Fire Department usually has a First Responder team on the site of any accident – they are trained for rescue. At some point, it will be determined whether it is a recovery or a rescue and/or if there is a need to preserve evidence. It’s usually a recovery rather than a rescue at a lake, because after a person spends ten minutes under the water without air, it becomes a recovery operation.


Are there enough on-the-water deaths to make certified-for-recovery dive teams necessary? Sadly, yes. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project tracks those stats for the five biggest USA lakes. There were 99 deaths reported in 2016, 88 in 2017, and as of this writing, 47 so far in 2018 in the Great Lakes alone. North Carolina has reported 10 lake deaths so far in 2018.


Most of the time, the lake deaths are accidental, but on occasion, bodies are found because of a homicide.


A body will float after 72 hours, and continue to float for a couple of days. After that, the naturally occurring body gas is expelled and it will sink again. Bodies are often found fairly quickly, but a body gets like jelly if it’s been in the water for a while, complicating the collection process.


Cold water will preserve a body, and warm water will cause more rapid decay, so divers must work carefully in the warmer locales. Cadaver dogs can pinpoint the location of a body to speed up the work. It’s been discovered that the longer the body is in the water, the wider the smell arc for the dogs. It’s a little like a dead fish smell, more concentrated closer to the body.


If no cadaver dogs are available, the divers swim in ever bigger arcs from the chosen starting point onshore and they work in grid patterns. If the search area is large enough, one of the onshore/on boat team members keeps a map/record of the searched areas.


In general, when working in shallow water, the investigation and recovery can be accomplished by dive teams alone. In deeper water, it will be a combination of boats and dive teams that do the search and recovery.


Most dive teams have the same equipment. They dive with aluminum scuba tanks and 3200 pounds of air will last about an hour. The basic dive suit is worn for warmth and protection – below 10 feet, it’s cold, no matter what the weather is up top. They also have hazmat suits to dive with in toxic environments.


Buoys are color-coded and are released to show when the diver(s) need help or when marking the spot.


With the smallest team of 3 people, there are:

  • Diver
  • Safety diver
  • Surface tender


With a team of 11 people, at any given time, there are five people in the water.


It is protocol to always keep one diver on the surface, ready to assist under water or switch places with the diver already in the water. The “tender” stays on the surface (whether in a boat or on the shore) and directs the search using a rope. The tender signals by tugs; he/she lets the rope play out, and then gives more when needed.


The “tender” not only controls the line and the search pattern, but keeps track of the air time and the clock time on a log, which becomes the official record of the diver/search activity. If there is a new diver on the team, the tender tracks to see the average air use, an important stat to have when making sure a sufficient supply of air tanks is on hand for each team member. The tender can estimate the time/air left in the tanks in use after observing the previous pattern of intake by the newbie.


After spending time in the water, the divers will be dehydrated, another thing the tender keeps track of.



Stay tuned for Part 2: Searches.”

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events, and to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations.




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