People often ask me what it’s like being a fire fighter. What do we DO all day? Well, here’s an insight into station life. To use firey lingo, we work a 10/14 roster, that’s two ten hour days followed by two fourteen hour nights on an eight day cycle. I’ll usually drive into the station for 7am. Officially that’s an hour early but we always do the right thing by the guys coming off the shift before. As soon as they are relieved they can go. You always hope you don’t get a fire call at changeover of shift as that involves a mad scramble to get you gear on and get on the truck before you’ve had a chance to check everything. We always have a brief chat to the boys coming off shift, although more often than not it’ll be more of a reciprocal grunt fest particularly if it’s been a busy night.
The day starts in the mess room over a cup of tea and brekkie and a general debrief of our ‘four off’ which is short hand for the four days off we get after our four shifts on. Our official start time is 8am at which point we check all our equipment. The designated driver checks the pump – that’s firey speak for the truck as its job is basically to pump out water at a high enough pressure to quell whatever raging inferno we happen to turn up to. We check our own breathing apparatus or ‘BA’ although the old fellas still call it a ‘caper’. Then there’s an inventory of gear to check on the truck, the gas detector, the thermal imaging camera, the hydraulic rescue gear (known as the ‘jaws of life to the general public’), the foam eductor and its attachments used for stubborn car fires or jobs where there’s a lot of flammable gases, the Haz Mat (that’s short for Hazardous Material) decontamination equipment. The list goes on…. There’s a lot of gear on that truck and I haven’t even mentioned the hoses!
After that we do our ‘Station work’ which is basically house work for the fire station AKA cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing toilets and generally looking after the station in the same way you would your home. Of course, during all of this the bells may well go. The bells are in fact not bells at all anymore. It’s more of an automated siren that ascends in volume before a voice tells you what you’re turning out to. As soon as you hear that first click of the siren your heart rate goes up. You could be turning out to a massive factory fire, a bomb blast, a Haz Mat spill, a car accident to name but a few. Then again you could just be turning out to a routine ‘AFA’ better known to most as an automatic fire alarm (or just a plain pain in the butt) which more often than not means a builder has created dust that set off the fire alarm, or someone had a shower and left the door open or even more exciting than that, someone burnt their sausages!
Every now and again especially at night, one of those AFA’s will be a working job and we’ve got to be ready to go, hence you may well see fire engines flying around the city over and over again without hearing that there’s been a big fire anywhere. So, no…. we’re not just putting on our lights and sirens just for the fun of it!
We often do community education presentations. In case you didn’t know kids LOVE fire fighters and their trucks! We’ll take the truck around to local schools and teach the kids about fire safety messages which generally ends up as a free for all on the truck and a few tantrums when it’s time to go because ‘Jonny’ got to sit in the drivers seat for longer than ‘Scotty’ did.
We also do drill just like the army or navy do. It could be knots or cordage drill where we rescue a dummy from a cliff or a building top or it could be ladders drill or a scenario of a house fire with limited water supply and difficult access. There’s an endless list depending on the creativity of your boss! Finally we’ve all got some sort of study to do. I’m studying at TAFE, a two year course to enable me to sit for my station officers exam. It’s always testing when you’re in the middle of an assignment and the bells go. By the time we get back I’ve forgotten where I was at and you have to start all over again.
The thing people don’t realise about station life is that if one of us has to go to the bank or buy some lunch then we all have to go and so does the truck! All in all the days go pretty quickly!
So there you have it… a first little insight into fire station life…