The art and science of suppression
When I started in the fire service 28 years ago, we had SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) in plastic boxes on the fire truck, wore three-quarter length boots with long black coats and medical equipment that would be considered ancient by today’s standards.
We have come a long way since then. We didn’t run as many hazardous materials, confined space, high angle or any other special operations-type incidents. We ran the occasional traffic accident and took people to the hospital when they were ill, but our time at the firehouse was much slower paced than it is today.
Decontamination after a good fire meant taking a soapy brush and garden hose to your fire gear and hanging them on the coat rack for two days to dry. There were no high-tech gear washers and dryers. Chemicals likes carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) were not chemical compounds we knew about. There were no Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT) or FAST teams to help the firefighters in case they got into trouble inside a fire. Seatbelts were the lap belt-style only, no shoulder straps, if any at all.
There was one portable radio on the truck, and it was as heavy as a brick. Booster or trash lines were the hoses of choice to fight fires. They were light, maneuverable and easy to pick up after the fires were over. Large diameter hose, which is now used to get water from a fire hydrant to the fire, was just being introduced to the fire service and was very expensive to purchase. Most departments were using multiple two-and-a-half-inch diameter or three-inch hose as supply lines.
Unlike 30 years ago, we now do a lot more than just fight fires. We are called out for vehicle extrications, hazardous materials incidents, medical emergencies, carbon monoxide emergencies, disasters of nature, water rescues, acts of terrorism, confined-space emergencies, high-angle rescues, public assist calls (both EMS and Fire) and structure collapses, just to name a few. We, in the fire service, have become the “go to” agency for just about everything. The motto “No job too small” appropriately fits now.
Is this true for Longboat Key? The answer is yes. Your department has well-trained, committed, dedicated and caring personnel that are ready to serve the public when called upon. They may not respond to these calls on a regular basis, but the potential on Longboat Key is very high and we do provide mutual aid to both Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Many of the high-rise buildings on Longboat Key have fire sprinklers installed. This provides a false sense of security to residents in that sprinklers extinguish the fire but the smoke is still present… what kills most people in the fire? Right, it’s the smoke. That is your fire department’s concern; getting to the fire quickly, getting to the fire floor first, the floor above the fire second, and ultimately to the top floor in an attempt to rescue occupants from the smoke-filled building.
Remember to use the stairs when there is a fire and not the elevators. If you have difficulty getting down the stairs, stay in the stairwell and wait for the firefighters to carry you down.
The safety of residents and the firefighters is important and when decisions are made they’re made quickly with safety of everyone involved. In the fire service there is a saying that is often used: “Risk a lot to save a lot, risk a little to save a little, risk nothing for that which is already lost.”
The saying that occupants run away from a building that is on fire while firefighters run in is absolutely true. The firefighters are trained to know when to enter a burning building and when they should not. These decisions are made by the incident commander (deputy chief), and there are many factors that are considered in the decision-making process.
There are no new reasons why firefighters are killed or injured. They are dying in the same ways year after year. If a firefighter dies in the line of duty, that death will most often be a result of a heart attack caused by stress or over exertion; a traffic accident involving a department’s apparatus; being caught and trapped by fire, smoke or toxic gas; falling or slipping; a collapse or coming in contact with a dangerous object, such as an electric wire. The types of ground injuries are also the same each year. Firefighters suffer strains, sprains, wounds, cuts, lacerations, bruises, burns, and smoke or gas inhalation. As firefighters get older these injuries become more severe and occur more often, even if the firefighter is in the best of shape.
The fire training on Longboat Key is geared toward residential and high-rise structures, the usual fire response. Knowing the buildings, water supply, hydrant locations, accessibility for apparatus as well as if the buildings are fully occupied or not help with the fire and rescue operations. The buildings on LBK are unique, and knowing the buildings is important for emergency responders.
High-rise and commercial fires (Publix, marinas, etc.) are a whole different animal and cannot be treated the same as residential fires. This is where firefighters cannot become complacent. When the low-air alarm sounds/vibrates on the firefighters’ air-bottle (self-contained breathing apparatus), they need to be outside the building. Not getting ready to leave, not working the extra five minutes and then racing to the doorway or window when the mask is sucking to their face. The low-air alarm is their emergency air supply in the event that something happens like a floor or roof collapse or becoming disoriented or entangled. The emergency air supply they have left may be the difference in their fellow firefighters rescuing him or her alive or dead.
Knowing that your fire department responds with well-trained and experienced personnel who are ready to provide fire rescue service is of great importance. The department responds to more EMS calls than fire calls, but keep in mind that Longboat Key has the potential for a devastating fire. If it wasn’t for the quick response and actions of the fire department last year at the Westchester Condominium fire, this fire could have done more damage and lives could have been lost.
Remember your Fire-Rescue Department is here to serve. In any emergency (fire or EMS), call 9-1-1 immediately — it could mean the difference between life and death.