first responders

KN, p. 118 “How do you become a firefighter?”

 

I have several pals around the country who are firefighters. Some put out wildfires, some work in rural areas, others in big cities. A couple of them helped out during and after September 11th. Firefighters have a dangerous job and a whole lot of guts. No doubt about it. They save lives, they help people, they serve the community in countless ways. Yet, many civilians assume that the job is just about putting out the flames. In most towns, there is much more to it. Their duties can include:

 

  • responding to requests for help
  • putting out fires
  • assisting at highway accidents
  • rescuing people during floods or other natural disasters
  • rendering safe any bombs
  • rescuing trapped people and animals

 

And, after they do all that, firefighters are usually responsible for the cleanup and checking the incident site afterward.

 

One of the first ways children meet firefighters is in school. Each year in October (National Fire Prevention Month in the USA) firefighters educate the community by visiting schools and public venues, demonstrating how to avoid getting hurt during a fire. “Stop, Drop & Roll” is taught everywhere, so that children will know what to do if they smell smoke in their own homes. In communities where wildfires are an unfortunate fact of life, wildfire preparedness is taught, with a focus on how to protect the house year-round and what to do when it’s time to evacuate.

 

Sound like a career you’d like to have? Read on to discover the job requirements. It’s a competitive field and not for everyone, but it is highly rewarding for the guys and gals who qualify.

 

You must be 18 and have a High School diploma. Beyond that?

 

Education

  • Because of the changing demands on firefighters, many fire departments now ask that applicants complete some kind of coursework beyond high school.
  • Some departments (generally in larger cities) even require a full bachelor or associate’s degree in fire science or fire engineering.

 

Most potential firefighters will then have to undergo five areas of testing in order to determine readiness for training:

 

Testing for Firefighter Qualification:

 

Written Exam – 150 to 200 multiple choice questions including reading comprehension, math, judgment, listening comprehension, oral & written communication, etc.

 

Physical Agility – the various parts of this test simulate situations a firefighter would encounter on the job and depending on the town/city, all must be completed in under ten minutes (in some cases as little as seven minutes)

  • Hose drag – in general, 200 feet of hose line is dragged at least 75 feet while walking or running upright, and then perhaps dragged an additional distance after dropping to one knee
  • Stair Climb – a set number of stairs is climbed while wearing or carrying equipment
  • Equipment Carry – some versions of the test require hauling  equipment through a second story window via rope; others require carrying equipment for 75 feet while walking on the ground.
  • Ladder Raise – those tall ladders have extensions that must be managed and adjusted while several feet off the ground.
  • Forcible Entry – using a sledgehammer, the applicant has to hit and move a device a certain distance in order to demonstrate an ability to use force when smashing through a wall, etc.
  • Search – the applicant has to crawl through a tunnel maze with right angles and limited visibility – about 3’x4’ in some spots, smaller in others
  • Rescue – a full-sized dummy (about 165 pounds) must be dragged 75 feet in one direction and then 75 feet back.
  • Ceiling Breach – tools are used to poke and pull at a hole in a ceiling – sometimes including a sixty pound door.

 

This video from Cuyahoga Community College demonstrates some of the challenges to be met:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tvwp2r2BzdE&feature=youtu.be

 

If the applicant fails the physical part of the test, he/she is typically allowed to sign up for a later attempt, usually after several months.

 

Other sections of the test battery include:

 

Medical Exam – thorough checkup, plus drug testing

 

Psychological Exam – are you psychologically suited for the job – are you afraid of dark, tight spaces? Do you work well in teams? Can you take orders? Why do you want to work in such a dangerous field?

 

Oral Interview (pass/fail section of testing)

Possible questions might include: Why do you want to be a firefighter? What are your strengths/weaknesses? What is the job?  Are you qualified? Why should we hire you?

 

 

After passing all five areas, the applicant will be permitted to apply to a fire academy and/or fire department for the training program.

 

Some towns are set up to allow for on-the-job training after the testing is complete. The applicants become candidates at the firehouse and complete their training with the firefighters they will be working with, but most towns require attendance at a formal program before this step.

 

 

Training Program

  • A several weeks/months long training program must be completed at a fire department or academy.
  • Recruits learn about hazardous materials control
  • Recruits learn emergency medical procedures, including CPR.
  • Local building codes are taught
  • Firefighting techniques are practiced, including handling axes, ladders, chainsaws, fire hoses and fire extinguishers.

       Additional information at www.fireprep.com

 

Think you’d like to know more? Call for an appointment at your local firehouse to drop in and introduce yourself. Chances are, if the guys have the time, they’ll chew your ear off with stories of calls they’ve gone out on. The job is not like what you see on “Chicago Fire.” Fun show, but not realistic. Ask a pro.

 

 

*Photos by Patti Phillips

 

KN, p. 87 “How many bodies at the scene?”

 

 

(WARNING: Some photos may be disturbing to some viewers)

 

Not long ago, Sheila and I spent a pretty intense afternoon with a group of students and professionals doing a simulation of an explosion and its aftermath at a local campus. Here’s how it played out.

“You have reached 911. What’s the nature of your emergency?”

 

“A bomb just went off at the campus! There must be a dozen people hurt…there’s blood everywhere…”

 

Someone – a fellow student or perhaps a passing motorist – had called 911 and while sobbing or yelling the words into the phone, had begun the process to get help to the scene. The caller was kept on the phone in order to get any “who, what and where” details they might have known.

 

The 911 dispatcher made the appropriate call and told the First Responder, “There’s a possible explosion at the college. There may be multiple injuries.”

 

In general throughout the USA, the groups that respond will be from the Police/Sheriff, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Departments in the area. The unit that responds first is the First Responder and it is their responsibility to secure the scene. When the Law Enforcement agency arrives, they will determine if they are looking at a crime scene or whether something has accidentally exploded. In both cases, a perimeter is established.

 

If it is a crime scene, then access inside the perimeter will be limited to essential personnel and a sign in/out log will be used. An officer will guard the access point as long as is needed. This insures that evidence can be preserved as much as possible and that curious onlookers will not get in the way of either treatment of the victims or investigation of the scene.

 

Multiple victims, multiple injuries, an explosion and several agencies involved? How do they keep from tripping over each other? How do they know what to do next?

 

Each of the groups has a Command person in charge of that group. In addition, an Incident Commander is in charge of the entire scene, coordinating the efforts of everybody concerned.

 

 

 

Victims are prioritized by type of wound, and then tagged with a card that identifies the level of injury, before they are eligible for transport. In general, the tag colors indicate:

 

*Black tags – not breathing

*Red tags – will die if not treated immediately, but still breathing on own

*Yellow tags – broken bones, but alert

 

The ones having sustained the most serious injuries and who have the greatest likelihood of survival, are treated and transported first by EMS Transport Command.

Other victims who have superficial cuts and abrasions are treated at the scene and released from care.

 

One of the simulation victims had a piece of glass ‘stuck’ in her arm as a result of being too close to windows that shattered during the explosion. The EMS gal treating her explained that the glass would keep the wound from bleeding until the victim reached the hospital. Basically, it was plugging the hole in her arm. If the police considered the glass a piece of evidence, it would be collected, bagged and tagged at the hospital. The piece of glass would only be removed at the scene if the patient could not breathe or if it got in the way of doing CPR. Since the glass was in her arm, it was left there and bandages were wrapped around it.

 

The Incident Commander explained that the first priority was the treatment of the patients and that all evidence on (or in) the victims would be collected later at the hospital. The EMS does not remove anything from the scene if they can help it.

 

The police began to take statements from the witnesses after treatment was in progress, but prioritized the questioning – least hurt, most alert, were questioned first. The EMS people are under HIIPA rules, so are not allowed to share any information they see or gather from the victims being treated. The police have to get that info on their own. At some point, the law enforcement officers would obtain an order for medical records of the person who caused the explosion.

 

Sadly, one of the victims ‘died’ during the simulation, as would happen in real life. This lady did not make it because her injuries were so severe. (only a simulation – that’s a great makeup job)

If all this were really happening, area airports and highways would be shut down until the threat level was determined. Was it an accident in a lab? Or was it a terrorist action? Unless the investigators get lucky and somebody confesses or does the ‘big reveal’ right at the scene, the truth is, that at an hour after the initial explosion, all that is known for sure is that lots of people have been hurt.

 

Sheila and I were impressed with how well the simulation went and how well organized it was. Great experience for us to see how a well-trained group can bring sanity to a potentially chaotic situation.

 

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at a real simulation conducted in Guilford County, NC at the Writers’ Police Academy.

*Sheila and Charlie Kerrian are fictional characters, but the simulation actually took place.

 

 

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