News

A day in the life of a firefighter

Class learns what it takes to do the job

On any given day, a firefighter could be called on to climb a flights of stairs while carrying more than 50 pounds of equipment, or to ride a ladder up the side of a building to fight a fire in the rain. Later that day, he or she could be called to rescue a driver or passenger trapped in a car after a crash, to crawl inside a burning building to fight a fire, provide first aid, saw through a roof or to rescue an occupant overcome by smoke.

It's not easy work, as a group of people learned first hand Saturday. A class called Fire Ops 101, held by firefighters Local 55 gave about 20 people some hands-on experience about what's required to do the job. After a briefing, the class suited up and slogged through the rain to where a couple dozen firefighters gave up their personal time to walk participants through six scenarios and show them just what it takes.

*Ventilation:

In this scenario, participants had the opportunity to wear firefighting gear and haul it up four flights of stairs, the way firefighters do in a high-rise building fire. They can't use the elevator since it might jam, so they stage the load in, carrying extra bottle of air, hoses, axes and everything else that might be needed.

The participants also learned that in fighting a structure fire, ventilation is key to keep a fire from spreading, so holes are quickly sawed through the roof with a chain saw, with plywood and sheet rock pried out of the way. Firefighters use a tool to thump the roof, making sure it's sound as they work their way up.

*Fire Attack:

Participants donned air packs and masks, then worked their way into a smoke filled building. In this scenario, they learned about how hoses are deployed and how firefighters are trained to keep low, crawling as they work their way into a building while others feed hose to them. They also learned that a fire is brought under control by spraying above it before trying to spray the fire itself. This is done in coordination with other firefighters who ventilate the roof from above.

Ideally, every member of the team knows his or her job, but with three-or-four person crews as is currently the case with firefighters in California, the battalion chief is often called away from coordinating the response to help with other jobs, like feeding hose to those inside before a second team arrives.

*Search:

One of the first things firefighters have to do when they arrive on a scene is determine if there's anyone inside, which can depend on the time of day and whether, for example, it's a business or a home. They're using more and more sophisticated gear, which became apparent to the participants as they began the search scenario, looking for someone trapped in a burning building.

Thermal imaging equipment can often tell from the outside if someone is trapped, and the imager can be brought inside during the search to look for a victim's heat signature. During a search inside a building, firefighters are taught to keep their left hand along one wall to keep them oriented, and to use the imager in their right to stay close to team members, and to watch for obstructions like furniture and wires that may have come down during the fire.

In this smoky scenario, participants once again used air masks and new headset radios to help them communicate as they crawled through a home with a thermal imager, looking for a victim. Often, an imager is not enough, like in cases where a victim may be in bed, under quilts or even hiding in a closet or under a bed, where he or she might not show up; in those cases, firefighters have to do a physical search, checking each room.

*Auto Extrication:

People may question firefighters why so many are required during a car crash, but Saturday's participants learned about the volume of work involved, much of it done simultaneously. Tires need to be pierced and the vehicle raised on blocks to keep from shifting, both to keep it from sliding, say, into a ditch, but also to keep the victim stable. Windows need to be broken with as special punch tool to give access to the victim or victims. If possible, one rescuer gets inside and holds the head of a person trapped inside while others use the jaws of life -- air-driven spreaders -- or air-powered cutters to remove a door, or in some cases, even a roof.

Cars currently designed to have crumple zones can be safer, but that can mean more work for rescuers who may have to use their tools to cut away more of a car and lever the dashboard away from a victim. In car crashes, rescue teams operate on the theory of the golden hour and platinum 10, which mark the optimum time to access a victim, remove him or her from a vehicle and get that victim stabilized.

Firefighters are now first responders, called out to every injury accident to provide assistance before ambulance companies arrive, and while all firefighters are emergency medical technicians with training in first aid, each team also includes a paramedic who can provide an extra level of medical assistance. Rescue teams have to know how to deal with everything from a single car crash to a rollover to a head on collision and what tools to use when.

Participants got to literally take a car apart in this scenario, puncturing tires, removing windows, doors and the roof to rescue the victim, a crash dummy.

*EMS (Emergency Medical Services)

In this scenario, participants had to rescue a trapped person from inside a partially collapsed building. A search dog was called in to locate victims, and the EMS team then strapped a person into a bodyboard and carry the person down three flights of steps, although in a real situation, the victim weighs much more than a practice dummy. Three people bring the victim down the stairs, with the person hold the head of the bodyboard giving directions. Victims are carried down headfirst, with the thid memberv of the team keeping a hand on the back of the person hold the foot side of the board and announcing railings and the number of steps remaining on each flight.

Basic first aid is done at the scene, and the real work begins after the victim is removed. Participants learned how an airway is cleared using a special tool, and what would be done if the victim had a collapsed lung as a result of the building cave in, along with the medical equipment carried by rescuers.

Jennifer Haggerty, a graduate of the Foothill High School's class of 2000 and Cole Halter, a freshman at Valley Christian High School, were part of a three-member team led by Tony Connell, a battalion chief from Newark.

Haggerty, who went through a similar day two years ago is looking to become a firefighter; she's been tasking classes locally and has signed up for the Navy, where she'll get firefighter training.

For her, the search scenario left the most lasting impression.

"It's a totally different atmosphere," Haggerty said. "You can't see, so you have to rely on your other senses."

Halter agreed, but was impressed with the amount of work the job requires.

"I didn't realize what a fireman went through and how hard the job was," he said.

Comments

Posted by JRenee, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 8:38 am

While we all appreciate the training and value the responsibilites of a firefighter - there are many other jobs that require important and exceptional job skills and training. However, most of those careers don't get paid the ridiculous salaries and pensions that the firefighters receive.

This article sounds like 'someones' idea to justify all the controversary surrounding the 'actual hours' fire fighters work for the community vs. the time spent at Starbucks, working out at Club Sport and watching TV at the station. Yeah, we all want YOUR job.


Posted by oh!riley, a resident of Alamo
on Mar 23, 2011 at 8:49 am

Thanks to all the firefighters for the work you do. You are appreciated!


Posted by LMP, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 9:34 am

JRenee, I had the same thought. While I appreciate the work they do, according to my firefighter friends, most of the time is spent hanging around the firehouse. There are always lines around the corner when the fire departments are recruiting. The salaries should be fair and based on supply/demand.


Posted by firefighterswife, a resident of Alamo
on Mar 23, 2011 at 10:10 am

My husband works as a firefighter in another city and he puts his life in danger everytime he is at work. He goes to fires, drug overdoses, shootings, car accidents etc. So JRenee and LMP, while your comment might be true for some fire houses it does not apply to all.


Posted by BLianides, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 11:31 am

Firefighters have a brutal job. When the call comes in they put their lives on the line to make sure the situation becomes under control for our benefit.They are paid fair for what they do and for the danger of the job. However,as dangerous as their jobs are,just so you know, they receive virtually no life insurance protection as part of their benefit plans. I help in this area and feel good about offering my services to those that help all of us here in Danville and the surrounding areas.
Thank you firefighters for all that you do for us!


Posted by sponge_bob_roundpants, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 11:50 am

I'll give my left arm for a firefighter's job - gimme a break. My son's friends go on "ride-alongs" with the FD (they want to be firefighters) all the time - they go to Safeway, buy steaks, barbeque steaks, watch a movie. Question: how many fires a year do they attend?
The other firefighter I know personally worked four days on (with overtime - $280K a year or so), then built replica Cobras on the 3 days off which he sold at profit.
AND THEN get a pension at 100% of his pay with the bogus pension padding nonsense that we taxpayers pay for.

Brutal job? I'd be glad to have it.


Posted by American, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Fire fighters are brave individuals, and I am grateful for their dedication and courage in a very dangerous line of work. However, I am always surprised that they tend to get paid much more in salary, have better benefits and retirement plans, than police officers. It would appear that police officers actually have a much more dangerous job, and are more likely to be injured or killed in the line of duty. Police officers also have much more stress, and society in general is so critical of police officers, and they are much more likely to get sued by the John Burris type lawyers, and you never hear about fire fighters getting sued. While I greatly respect the job fire fighters and police officers due in protecting us, personally I feel that police officers should get paid more in salary and benefits than fire fighters. I also think the reason fire fighters have such a sweet compensation deal is because politicians never want to seem anti-fire fighters, but it is acceptable in our litigious society to be anti-police.


Posted by T bone steaks every day, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Lotsa sugar coating in this article. Yes, the job is dangerous. Yes many jobs are dangerous. Finally, most time is spent sleeping, watching TV, playing on the internet, and getting six figure salaries. They ( in most cases ) are over paid and underworked.

So lets all dig deeper and pay more while retire at 50 years old is the norm. I feel so sorry for our children who will have to pay for our misguided wasteful spending on these types of public jobs.


Posted by Doug, a resident of Alamo
on Mar 23, 2011 at 5:35 pm

It always blows me away to read comments. Posting incorrect and unfounded information. To state how firefighters don't do anything, drink coffee, shop, watch TV and recieve astronomical salleries with huge pensions is simply outragious! These are highly trained public servents. I wonder is the people posting would be saying those things if their house catches fire, they get into an auto accident, a random act of violence comes their way, they have an asthma attach, a heart attach or God for bid...die. Lets remember those men and women getting paid a decent wage spend one third of their lives away from their families, ready at a moments notice, ready 24 hrs a day, to save our lives. Personally, I want those heroes to get paid and paid well. Their dedication to ALL OF US is appreciated and wanted. So, THANK YOU Firefighters!!! The next time I see you in line at Starbucks, I'm buying.


Posted by lets be real, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm

this last post was just too much! doug is probably a firefighter or has family in the game! they do get paid well!! that is why millions want the job cause it is a good gig! every firefighter i know, knows they have a sweet deal.


Posted by sponge_bob_roundpants, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Hey Doug, how many fires were there in your neck of the woods last year? Just curious.
Also, I think there are a few other people who read this board who spend a third of their lives away from their family working. It's called a career. What, you don't work? Sheesh.
Like I said, I'd love to be a FF - looks like there are many others just like me - a cush job, with phenomenal pay, great hours once you get used to it (4 on 3 off with O/T), and a pension that pays you til you die as if you're working every day. Get real. And learn to spell while you're at it, while spending your inheritance at Starbucks.


Posted by seriously???, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm

sponge bob you just sound like a bitter person--if you are so jealous of the all the perks that firefighters receive while they "are at Safeway and watching movies" then go and apply.


Posted by sponge_bob_roundpants, a resident of Danville
on Mar 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm

no, not bitter or jealous. I've made my own way through using my own means (my brain). My objection is that in the wonderful state of California, I'm taxed at roughly 70% of my gross pay (count gasoline taxes, sales tax, and all others). I'm kind of sick and tired of paying inordinate amounts of $ in taxes to support individuals who pretty much have it made, from a career perspective. The fraternity of FF and PD has made it such that they are essentially working the system to their benefit and retiring at their highest pay, which most in the private sector do not enjoy the benefits of. So again, not bitter. But it is "Sheople" like you who continue to just "grin and bear it" who are part and parcel of the problem.
Don't question authority sir (or madam) - just keep paying away. I'm not surprised why people like you call it a "grind".
Do yourself a favor and THINK! instead of being a lemming.


Posted by Jerold Z Kaplan, M.D., a resident of Alamo
on Mar 24, 2011 at 7:25 am

I am not a firefighter, nor do I have family in that profession. However, I have been Director of the Burn Centers at Alta Bates and Children's Hospital Oakland, and have taken the military firefighter course. I also have a friend who was seriously injured while firefighting. Having cared for many burn victims, I can assure you that I have abso;utely no desire to swap jobs, even if I could return to my physical condition at age 25. Firefighting is sometimes described as 95% boredom coupled with 5% sheer terror. Even at 99/1, it's not as sweet a deal as many people seem to think! Thanks to those men and women who are willing to accept the risks.


Posted by oh!riley, a resident of Alamo
on Mar 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

Thank you for your comments Dr. Kaplan. I'm so surprised at the members of our community who feel that firefighters have a cushy job and don't deserve to be paid for "watching tv and going to safeway". Do you feel the same way about our military soldiers who, by your definition, just "lounge around" on military bases before being deployed? Firefighters are on call, waiting to save you, your loved ones and your property at the risk of their own lives. I hope I never need to see them in action--and I'm happy to say "thank you" for their service when I see them serving pancakes to kids and shopping at safeway. Show some respect, please.


Posted by Idea, a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

Sponge_bob has very valid points, But it is "Sheople" like you who continue to just "grin and bear it" who are part and parcel of the problem. People need to wake up to run away public servant pay and benefits. It shameful for us as citizens to continue to allow bankrupting our children's future with these over paid costs. I might add that it's shameful for the firefighters to pass the burden of their greed to their children too. We do not need all these new taxes. Like was stated we pay 70% already. It is time for correction in the lucrative field of public service for our children's sake.


Posted by James Ritchey, a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

It is so sad some people are so misinformed regarding what a Fire Fighters job is. When one makes a foolish statement about how much fire fighters make and their pension being outlandish, I can only think they are very jealous of the people who risk their lives every day for these irrational people. Granted fire fighters do not go on fire calls every day however, when they respond to a variety medical calls, they are always at risk of be exposed to HEP C virus or stuck with a sharp needle which could pass the HIV virus on to them or being hit by a passing car while trying to extricate or help a victim in an auto accident. Oh! by the way, call your local Fire Dept and ask about the statistics regarding fire fighters being exposed to Carcinogenic compounds daily as well as other hazards associated with the job. You will be surprised how dangerous the job is. But then again it is usually a waste of time trying to convince someone who is short sided, closed minded and unwilling to really find out what a fire fighter really does to earn his or her pay.


Posted by Just a thieving firefighter, a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Dr. Kaplan, this firefighter knows your name and your reputation. Thank you for the kind words without the hyperbole and thank you for overseeing what has always been known to be a burn unit of the highest caliber. I've transported a number of patients there over the years and have always been impressed and knew that if I ever ended up there, I was in good hands. Thank you.

You know what the great thing about the fire service is folks? Regardless of your opinion of us, you will all still receive the same high quality service that you've always received. I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who've never spent a day in my boots that seem to know all about my job. Do you realize that if you call 911 for ANYTHING other than a police matter it's the fire department that's going to show up?

There has historically been about 500 applicants for every FD opening. Today, most are certified paramedics and have degrees in Fire Science Technology. I think if you look at your own department, they require at least a year of experience as a paramedic, also. That's just to get in the door to start the multifaceted hiring process before a job offer is even made. The days of going from the trades straight to the fire service are long gone. Those that try and get into the business just for the money and benefits typically don't make it through the interview process. I'm not willing to trust my life, or your life, to a guy who's only there for a paycheck.


Posted by lets b real, a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm

thieving- i know many retired firefighters, active duty firefighters and my son has taken the fire courses and is currently a paramedic...i know what you do!!! how many of us work day in and day out for people we dont like or dont like us? i would never refuse my services...come on for real? lets be real for a sec, dude you get paid well and you have a great pension! when my house burns or my neighbors house burns, ill be right there with you buddy.

its a good gig, but the pensions are out of wack and retirement is to early


Posted by oh really?, a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

thieving - appropriate handle - now get back to work instead of reading and posting to local forums. Wash a truck or something. Make sure you clear the cache on your browser so they can't find the porn too.


Posted by Just a theiving firefighter, a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm

lets b real: I left pension and benefits out of this because everybody needs to make their own decisions on those issues. I just wished there was more fact based discussion and less emotional rhetoric on both sides. The user named I picked was in response to the latter. My goal was to thank Dr. Kaplan and inform.


Posted by Magster, a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm

There are 3 aspects to this discussion. Forget the job and their actual 'pay' for a minute (you deserve the job if you have it: you've worked hard to get there; and you deserve to be paid well for your knowledge and training!)
IT'S THE PENSIONS!! THEY'RE OUT OF LINE!
If you're a firefighter,...and don't admit that, then you are foolish. Plain and simple!


Posted by firefighterswife, a resident of Alamo
on Mar 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Again--my husband as well as many others risk their lives everyday they are at work!! Some of your comments are plain rude and condescending--"oh really??"--what "thieving firefigher" and "James Ritchey" said is RIGHT ON! There is no need for you to make such lame comments.


Posted by oh really?, a resident of Danville
on Mar 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm

what wifey - a little to close to home? Risk his life, indeed. I risk my life too, every day on 680 driving next to school marms like you texting away on their Iphones. You sure you know what hubby / hero is doing in the firehouse?


Posted by firefighterswife, a resident of Alamo
on Mar 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

aren't you really mature


Posted by Idea, a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:33 am

Firewife,
These condesending comments you read are the frustration of the people who pay your husbands salary. Granted, the job has it's moments of shear terror. The problem is not how wonderful all firefighters are nor how dangerous the job is. Thats not in dispute. Firefighters jobs do not even rate in the top ten of most dangerous jobs ! The firefighter jobs in this area are frankly overpaid period and people are tired of that. Like I said before, you should be ashamed that you will dump this debt to your children and mine. Lets get real with the pay and stop crying how wonderful firefighters are. The pay structure and benefit structure needs major reform for your childrens sake.


Posted by Idea, a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2011 at 8:37 am

P.S.

As thieving firefighter says

" I'm not willing to trust my life, or your life, to a guy who's only there for a paycheck ".

If this is true then pay structure reform should be backed by firefighters who are in the career for the public and not themselves.




Posted by idea_good, a resident of Danville
on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:57 am

idea - your thoughts are spot on.
Firewife, I'm sure you've had more than 1 discussion with your husband re: his career and pension. Please enlighten us - what is his pay right now (with O/T), what will his increases be, when can he retire, what will his pension be, etc?
No worries, this is an anonymous forum, but in the manner you're defending the pay structure, it would appear that your real life experience may be far different than what the public record/media has indicated to the the taxpayers. Our impression is we're cutting back on teachers and medical professionals and other "heroes" but the PD/FDs are unscathed.
Let us know, we're all very curious.
PS - and please stop deifying him, it really gets ridiculous after awhile.


Posted by jrm, a resident of Vista Grande Elementary School
on Mar 27, 2011 at 5:44 pm

jrm is a registered user.

I support idea and idea_good, I have been highly critical in this forum previously in other topics about the incredible salary creep and pension abuse foisted upon us all by municipal/town and police/sheriff and county employees. The issue is not about these folks individually, it is about the long term financial consequences this lack of oversight has generated. I am sure we will not have a specific answer from firewife or any other firefighter, the truth is, they do not want us to know! If government workers/police and fire staff want to stave off growing anger about their benefits they must stop their obstructionist behavior regarding making this information public to all. Every one of us should read Daniel Borenstein's column in the San Ramon Valley Times (Bay Area News Group) from this morning's edition. For the firefighters specifically I place a large portion of the blame on our fire district board members, and therefore ultimately on ourselves...we elect them reflexively without knowing anything about them. At least one has a spouse who is a firefighter in another fire district...an incredible abuse of fiduciary responsibility. The SRVFD app on my I-Phone has been most illuminating, it reveals how little these guys actually do in the course of a day and I must say I was amazed how much idle time there really is. My next door neighbor is a fireman, nicest guy in the world, best neighbor you could ask for. He also has a side business as a contractor "since I have so much free time"...many of them have additional businesses on the side, installing pools was a favorite gig for many until the economy went south. Again, this is not about them or the periodic dangers (loggers and fishermen have WAY more injuries on the job statistically) they face, it is about the financial trends which are NOT sustainable.


Posted by Idea, a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2011 at 8:46 am

Great comment jrm, This is not a personal attack on Firefighters, Police, etc. They do a wondeful job. Its about financial resposibilty of public funds. It needs to change before half of the firefighters and Police are laid off because the costs are too high.

The pot of gold for public fund give aways is gone.


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