“Help, There’s a Fire!”
A Fireman–Paramedic’s Story
THE bell went off and jerked me out of my sleep. The vocal dispatch blared through the fire station, “Reported building fire, 353 East Olive. Cross street, Third. Time out 1435.”
That’s when all my training met its test. I swiftly donned my protective clothing, consisting of a helmet, fire-resistant coat, protective pants, gloves and safety boots. As I climbed onto the fire engine my heart rate seemed to double. The siren began to wail, and we were off to my first official fire.
Even before reaching the scene, the captain turned and yelled to me: “Looks like we’ve got a working fire. There’s smoke visible. Put on a breathing apparatus.” The self-contained breathing apparatus allows us to breathe fresh air in a smoky atmosphere. It also adds roughly 25 pounds to our already heavy gear. But, while we head toward the fire, you may be asking, ‘How were you trained for this work?’
My fireman preparation started when I was 21 years old, with a six-week course of both classroom and in-the-field training. It consisted of learning fire behavior in both structure and forest settings. I was trained in handling hazardous chemical spills and flammable liquid fires; I also learned equipment operation, and first aid and rescue techniques.
I can remember training-school drills when we were put into a pitch-black basement in teams of two. We had our breathing apparatus on and were told that we had only five minutes of air left. Then we were instructed to search the floor for bodies. We had taken a hose line in with us, and our only way out was to follow it back to the door. While we were in the basement, the instructor was jumping on the metal roof, creating a terribly frightening noise. This drill, like others, was designed to test our ability to work under adverse conditions and to make sure we would not panic easily. But let’s get back to the real thing.
Screams for Help
Once on the fire scene I could see a two-story apartment complex with the entire upper floor enveloped in flames. A woman was hanging out a window screaming for someone to get her down. My captain told me: “Throw up a 24 to the second floor window.” A 24 is a 24-foot (7-m) extension ladder. I must have extended one to a second story window 50 or 60 times in school, but this time it was for real, and we saved the lady.
Just after I had put up the ladder, another fireman yelled to me: “Grab an ax. We’ve got to make entry.” Forcible entry into structures is another skill learned in school. But I wasn’t worried about making entry. That’s usually easy. What worried me was what was on the other side of the door. It could be a wall of raging fire or thick clouds of poisonous black smoke. Many people do not realize that most deaths in fires result from inhaling this deadly smoke long before the fire reaches them. So where is the safest place if you are trapped in a fire? Close to the ground with a wet cloth over your mouth and nose to protect you from the deadly gases and smoke.
We made entry and found ourselves in the thick of smoke and heat. We crawled from room to room with visibility not more than three to four inches (8 to 10 cm). We were trying to find the fire and extinguish it with the hose I was dragging beside me. At school we spent a lot of time learning the proper use of hoses and nozzles. They used to tell us: “Never leave your hose line. It’s the one thing that can save your life.” They were right! As we crawled farther into the apartment there was a glow of light coming from a bedroom. The focus of the fire was there. However, with the high-powered hose the fire was soon extinguished.
Once the fire was out, we began what we call salvage and overhaul. This is done by sifting through the charred rubble in an effort to find smoldering hot spots, salvageable valuables and clues to the cause of the fire. In this case the fire was traced to faulty wiring in a wall heating unit. It is surprising how many fires are due to defective wiring and electrical apparatuses.
I look for fire hazards like these when making yearly inspections of the businesses in my city. Other than fighting fires, this is one of the many routine duties I have as a fireman. Many hours of study about city building and electrical codes, as well as storage of flammable and hazardous chemicals, are required to make these inspections effective. I am also involved in teaching first aid and fire-safety classes to community groups. As you can see, we firemen are kept busy even when there are no fires. I even have common house chores, such as mopping floors, mowing lawns and washing windows at the fire station.
As I look back on my first year as a fireman, I can recall many “first time” experiences. We responded to fires in huge storage plants and brush areas. We were called to assist victims of heart attacks, attempted suicides and industrial accidents. All of this was part of my job as a fireman.
What It Takes to Be a Paramedic
Shortly after the end of my first year as a fireman, I was chosen to receive paramedic training at one of the local hospitals. This training was given by doctors and nurses and involved five and a half months of intensive schooling in advanced life support.
The first two months were devoted to classroom studies in the areas of anatomy, physiology, drug therapy and equipment use. Each morning we would arrive at school tired from the previous night’s three to four hours of homework. At 8:00 a.m. the class started with a test on the material covered in the previous class. These studies, while being a necessity as a part of my paramedic training, also gave me a greater appreciation of the wisdom of our Creator. To see his ability to create so many individual systems within the body and have them work in perfect harmony was faith strengthening. At the same time I learned how destructive such habits as smoking, drug abuse and chronic overindulgence in alcohol can be to the body.
My third month was spent at the hospital. The first day there, I saw three gunshot victims, seven drug overdoses and four people injured as a result of driving while under the influence of alcohol. I could see that all 14 of these unpleasant situations were a result of people’s leading lives far from the principles and laws contained in the Bible.
I also did a stint in the labor and delivery ward. There I was privileged to assist in the delivery of seven babies, all healthy and full of life. There has never been anything more awe inspiring to me than seeing firsthand the bringing into this world a new life. Again I found myself admiring the Creator’s handiwork. With the recent birth of my own daughter, that feeling of awe has been heightened.
The Real Test
Once my hospital training was done, the real test came—two months of field work on an ambulance, being supervised by two certified paramedics. On my first shift I was called at two in the morning to aid a man in an overturned auto. It was pouring rain—a far cry from the clean, dry hospital setting I had just left.
Each call was different, with a challenge of its own. For example, when I responded to one involving a person injured at a factory, I found a man under the influence of the mind-twisting drug PCP, commonly called angel dust. As is often the case, the man had superhuman drug-inspired strength. He was hurling 55-gallon (200-L) drums of oil five to six feet (1.5 to 2 m) in the air. This was not all. He had sustained an injury that had severed all the toes on one foot, but he felt no pain. This reaction is also quite common. It took six burly police officers to wrestle him to the ground and restrain him with two sets of handcuffs. They knew that one set of cuffs was not enough. Quite often a person will break the chains between the cuffs, as if they were mere toys.
These last months of training were the most shocking for me. I saw firsthand the many physically and mentally disastrous situations into which people get themselves.
Suicides, Crime—and Rewards
Time after time we responded to attempted suicides. One woman told me, as she lay on a couch in her two-million-dollar house, that she wanted to kill herself so she wouldn’t have to face another day of problems. How helpless these people must feel not having the Bible hope of “a new earth,” where there will be no problems that provoke suicidal tendencies.—Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4.
Because crime is so prevalent paramedics are often called to incidents in which people are hurt or even killed trying to obtain what is not legally theirs. When I asked one 16-year-old boy who had been shot while trying to steal a radio from a home whether it was worth the consequences, he answered: “Sure, I’ve been shot before. The bullet wounds heal. Then I’ll go out and try it again. This is really no big deal.” This made me more appreciative of the lifesaving values and restrictions found in the Bible. They are not there to deny us something we need, but to protect us from the tragedies I see firsthand nearly every day!
My experiences as a paramedic have also been very rewarding. For example, when we are called to a person who is in great pain from a heart attack we can often save a life. By use of radio contact with the hospital, we receive permission to start an intravenous fluid line in the person. Through this line we send heart-stabilizing and pain-relieving drugs. We administer oxygen and monitor the person’s heart rhythm. The feeling that comes from aiding such a person and possibly having a part in saving a life is very rewarding.
So the next time you see and hear a fire engine or an ambulance scream by on its way to bring aid to someone, think of the training and effort firemen and paramedics have put into their jobs. Remember that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ Try to cooperate by preventing fires and accidents. Then maybe you will never have the need to cry out: “Help, there’s a fire!”—Contributed.
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What to Do in Case of Fire—Suggested by Fire Departments
● Get out as fast as possible. Save lives not property—you are worth more than any TV! Keep low to the ground so as not to breathe smoke. Close doors after you, but do not lock them. That prevents the formation of a fire draft but allows firefighters to get through. If you cannot escape through the door or the window, keep smoke out of your room by blocking the door with moist towels, etc., and close the window if smoke and flames are entering from a lower floor.
● If you smell smoke in your room from an outside source, check the door to see if it is hot. If it is, DO NOT OPEN IT. Use a different exit. This emphasizes the importance of two exits from each room—window and door.
● A vital MUST—have smoke detectors on each floor of your home. Most fatal fires occur at night. An alarm will wake you up. Smoke and gas will kill you.
● Have regular family fire drills. Plan your exit routes for different situations. Have a flashlight in a fixed place in case the light cables burn out. Know where to meet outside—in that way an easy check can be made on the whole family. Do not attempt to go back inside.
● Have the fire department telephone number posted for immediate reference. Know where the nearest public phone or fire alarm is located. Call the fire station—do not assume that someone else has done so. Two or three calls are better than none.
● If you have fire extinguishers, know ahead of time where they are and how they function. Use them only for minor fires. If the fire is already major and beyond control, do not waste valuable time trying to put it out yourself—get out and call the fire department.
● Prevention is better than cure. Do not allow fire-hazard situations in your home. Common-sense precautions can prevent most of them.
1. No flammable liquids or materials near ignition sources.
2. No matches, cigarette lighters or fire within the reach of children.
3. No overloaded electrical cables.
4. No electrical cables under carpets
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Sample Exit Routes for a One-Story Home
Do you have family fire drills?
Do you know the quickest way to safety?
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The feeling that comes from helping to save a life is very rewarding