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Fire Tech

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On February 8th, 2013 I visited fire station #6 located in Costa Mesa, California. I called the station prior to my visit and spoke with a fire fighter named Story. He said it would be alright to stop by around two o’clock. Upon arrival I came up with ten questions to ask him that I thought would provide me with a better understanding of what it takes to be a fire fighter. During my visit to the fire station I wanted to identify what it takes to be a firefighter, the day to day operations at the fire station, and see the type of equipment they use on fires and medical calls. When I arrived Mr. Story gave me a tour of the station, and explained that his station was an EMT station only, meaning that if their station went on a call they would have to also call a paramedic unit if it was needed. We sat down for 30 minutes and went over the questions I prepared and talked about his journey to become a fire fighter.

During the meeting we engaged in conversation about the department. He told me that the department is comprised of six stations with 676 firefighters currently working in Costa Mesa. I learned that their station averages three to four calls per day, and this past year the department had around 10,600 calls. Calls consist of occurrences such as structure fires, gas leaks, medical related emergencies and traffic incidents. Mr. Story said that his station has the lowest calls per day in the city. This is due to where there station is located in the city. Being near high rise apartments and industrial buildings, calls tend to not happen as frequently. Stations located in residential neighborhoods or near downtown areas of the city receive the highest number of calls per day. He said the demographic of the city has about 108,000 thousand people living in the city of Costa Mesa. The city is comprised of mostly Hispanic, Mexican, and white people.

The largest age group that lives in Costa Mesa ranges from 25-35 years old. The next matter I wanted to talk about was the type of training they perform during their shifts. He stated that they train for two hours every day as a team. Some examples of the things they will train on are SCBA drills, hoses, EMT, Wild land fires, equipment and tools, buddy breathing, ladders, and hazardous material. He stated it is important to train together so that everybody is on the same page when an incident occurs. Performing simple task automatically is essential for firefighters. At the station they will perform two types of training. The first is manipulative training. This type of training involves hands-on operations of equipment and tools. (Klinoff 277).

Manipulative training is vital because as a fire fighter you will be working with tools and equipment all the time. It is imperative to understand how and when to use equipment and tools. Examples of this type training are “when you advance a hose line or don a SCBA during the initial training” (Klinoff 277). By understanding how equipment and tools work they can save lives and possible your own. Another example of manipulative training is “performing drills with hose and other equipment, which is call performing evolutions” (Klinoff 278). Training with hose line is important because arriving at a big fire, every second counts. Getting hooked up on a hydrant and pulling hose line should be second nature. The second topic of training we discussed was technical training. In technical training it is essential to be able to perform certain fire functions with great knowledge and understanding.

According to Klinoff, the “days of a firefighter only requiring a strong back and no brains are gone” (274). As he put firefighters constantly have to prove to the public and tax payers that they are worth every penny. Whether it is from visiting schools, conducting fire inspections, knowing building construction, and inspecting extinguishing agents; fire fighters play a huge role in public safety in the community. Another example of technical training is knowing “the design limitations of all of your equipment” (Klinoff 276). This is very important in the fire department. Understanding what can and what can’t work in certain incidents is crucial. This type of training will not only save your life but others as well.

According to Klinoff, if you are out in public and “you come across as well trained and competent; this is how the department will be received” (Klinnoff pg 274). Therefore, it is important to have general knowledge of everything that has to do with the fire department. Mr. Story said to me that “you are not only representing yourself but the department as well” (Costa Mesa Fire Department). After discussing the day-to-day operations of working at the station, we transitioned to the types of equipment used on the job. I was shocked at how many hand tools and equipment that was on the trucks. Mr. Story stated “during your probation period you will be drilled everyday on how to use the tools and what they are used for. He said the probation period was pretty stressful” (Costa Mesa Fire Department).

The tools included power tools, gas-powered circular saws, ladders, Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices, ventilation fans, forcible entry tools, ropes and knot’s, Rescue and Extrication tools, Thermals (TIC), SCBA’s, drop bags, and hydraulic tools. He pulled out all the tools and showed me what they are used for and how to use them. According to Mr. Story, “the average weight with turnouts, breathing apparatus, and tools used during a fire can range from 50-75 pounds. This all depends on what tools you will need for the fire emergency” (Costa Mesa Fire Department). During the tour he talked about the process of getting hired and what he did to make himself that best candidate for the job.

Mr. Story said that he went to Santa Ana College right after high school. He took all of the fire technician classes and then went onto to the academy. He said that he was lucky enough to be able to live at his parents’ house while he was going to the academy. He stated the academy was pretty tough but he learned a lot. The most important thing he recommended was to interview as much as you can where ever. He indicated by doing this you can get better at testing and interviewing. He recommended keeping my contacts and resume updated. After graduated from the academy Mr. Story volunteered for the Anaheim Fire Department for three years. Mr. Story recalled a great experience with the Anaheim fire department but doesn’t recommend doing it full time. He suggested getting a part time job and also volunteering for the fire department. During his time volunteering he interviewed at 25 different departments until he was hired at Costa Mesa Fire Department. He said during the interview they would ask him questions about the fire tech program and what he had learned in the program. He said “ultimately you are going to have to make sacrifices for this job that are going to affect your family and social life” (Costa Mesa Fire Department).

The one thing that Mr. Story recommended is not getting discouraged if you don’t get the job the first time. He told me to understand that it “is a long process, and to work hard and never give up” (Costa Mesa Fire Department). He advised me not to cut corners in the duration of the process, because there is always something that you can be doing to make yourself a better candidate. I asked Mr. Story what are the greatest and worst things about being a firefighter? Mr. Story replied, “the greatest thing about being a fire fighter is that you never know what kind of call you will be going on. The worst has to be the work schedule. 24 hour shifts three days in a row is not that fun” (Costa Mesa Fire Department).

By asking Mr. Story those questions I was given a better understanding of how to proceed with setting my own goals. After talking with Mr. Story and hearing about his volunteer work with the Anaheim Fire Department I wanted to know more about combination fire departments. I wanted to understand the positive and negatives of having career and volunteer fire departments. According to Robert Klinoff, “of all fire departments in the United States, 90% are composed entirely or mostly of volunteers” (219). In the United States most departments do not have the funding to support fully paid fire departments. By having volunteer fire fighters, departments can save money. The reason for this are “most of the volunteer fire fighters (94%) are in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people, and more than half are located in small, rural departments that protect fewer than 2,500 people” (Klinoff 220). This works great for rural departments that do not have the funding to support a fire department in there town.

In many instances paid personnel can handle a small incident such small fire, car accident, and medical calls. In bigger cities this is helpful to have volunteer fire fighters on call for bigger incidents. A disadvantage of having combination departments is that the volunteer fire fighters do not receive the proper training. Another problem is that it is hard for volunteer fire fighters to complete the training required by the department due to job requirements. My favorite part of the visit to the station was when he went over the vehicle extrication tools and equipment. He showed me the Jaws of Life. In an emergency this tool would “be placed in the gap between the car door and the body, these tools exert up to 60,000 pounds of force to pop the door open”( Klinoff 183). Since his station is located right off the 405 and 55 freeway this tool is huge for car accidents.

Another vital tool is the “gas-powered circular saws with metal cutting blades used to be in common use for vehicle rescue operations” (Klinoff 183). This tool essential in cutting away parts of the car to get the victim out. Another important tool in vehicle extrication is a tool to take out side windows without harming the victim; fire fighters will use a “spring loaded hand-held punch.” (Klinoff 183). This will break the glass without getting all over the victim. Mr. Story stated, “That if they were to use an axe and break the window, the glass would strike the victim and could cause seriously injury.” Lastly, He showed me the air bag system that they use for car accidents. “These bags are inflated through their own regulator from a self-contained breathing apparatus bottle and, depending on size, are capable of lifting from 12 to 70 tons” (Klinoff 183). A perfect example he gave where this tool can be effective was when a bus had ran over a victim.

The victim was trapped under the bus and the fire fighter used these bags and lifted the truck up to save the victim. For safety during this rescue fire fighters placed wood blocks under the bus for support to make sure that the bus didn’t come down on the fire fighter and the victim. The station had two trucks, of which Mr. Story described as a “quint truck” and a “truck.” The Quint Truck is the main truck that they use on most calls, and is equipped with a pump, Ariel ladder, water tank, ladders, tools, and hoses everything they need to for any type of emergency. This type of apparatus is “used as a pumper and a ladder truck combination” (Klinoff 165). The Truck is their reserve truck which is used for bigger fires or emergencies. The Truck is equipped with mostly ladders and tools, and do not have capability to carry water.

This truck is used for ventilation, forcible entry, and carrying extra tools to fight the fire. As he was giving me the tour of both fire apparatuses he showed me the type hoses, equipment, and tools the stations has on both fire apparatuses. Fire hoses are very vital in fighting fires. According to Klinoff, most departments have “standard attack lines for structural firefighting; which is 1 ½ or 1 ¾ inch with ½ inch couplings” (170). These attack lines can put out 100 to 200 gallons per minute. For bigger fires he said they have 2 ½ supply lines with 2 ½ couplings that can put out 250 to 500 gallons per minute. After he got done showing me the hose lines we went to the combination nozzles. The reason “they are called combination nozzles are because they are capable of straight stream or fog patterns. (Klinoff 176). I got to hold and see how nozzles work.

During his career he has only been on a handful of fires. Due to the area they work in, they go on more medical related calls than fires. In summary, my visit to station #6 in Costa Mesa provided me with a great insight what it takes to be a firefighter, the day to day operation at the fire station, and the type of equipment they get to use on fire and medical calls. Mr. Story provided me with abundant amount of information on all the aspects of being a fire fighter and what I have to do to prepare myself into becoming a fire fighter. From this visit I know now understand what I am getting myself into and what I have to do to prepare myself into becoming a fire fighter. My goal is to complete all of the fire technician courses and go to the Academy, of which I plan on accomplishing in two years. After the academy I intend to interview anywhere that is hiring. During the hiring process I plan on volunteering my time at local fire stations and nonprofit organizations. My next goal after the academy is to go to paramedic school and become a fire fighter.

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