What do EMTs and firefighters do between calls at the fire station? A great way to experience the life of a local first responder is to learn about a weekend shift, or “duty crew,” at Stonewall Jackson Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad. Weekend duty crews are always busy! When our professional volunteers are not responding to fires, medical emergencies, or public assistance calls, they are training, maintaining the station grounds, preparing meals, and trying to find a few minutes to take a “safety nap” to ward off fatigue.
The weekend of St. Patrick’s Day (B shift) was no exception. Crew members arrived in time for shift change at 0800 on Saturday. Each crew member has a job to do, and the crew went to work inspecting apparatus, making their beds in the bunk rooms, and preparing meal plans for the 34-hour shift. After each unit was checked out, the ambulance, engine, and truck rolled out to breakfast and went to buy groceries for the weekend. Feeding around 20 hungry first responders for an entire weekend requires careful meal planning!
After the crew returned to the station, the truck crew did some food preparation while the ambulance responded to several medical calls for service. Each unit at the station is capable of responding to medical emergencies, but ambulances are the first to be dispatched because of their additional medical supplies and their transport capacity. The ladder truck is a specialized fire apparatus that is only dispatched to fire or technical rescue emergencies unless an ambulance or engine is not available. This means that sometimes the fine cooks from the ambulance or engines are replaced by stand-ins from the truck!
After the kitchen was sorted out, the truck crew put the ladder to use doing some minor roof repairs. Truck drivers need to be proficient in operating and positioning the 105-foot steel ladder, and truck firefighters also need to be capable and comfortable working on both the ladder and rooftops. B Crew turned a mundane chore into an opportunity to apply all these skills.
After the building repairs were satisfactory, the truck and engine crew conducted a technical rescue training scenario and tool workshop. The crew deployed ParaTech struts, high pressure air bags, chains, hoists, stabilization cribbing, and ratchet straps to perform a controlled flip of a car. Although this exact scenario may not occur in a real emergency, the process helped crews expand their technical rescue skills and use their tools in a new application.
Training does work up an appetite! The next task was cooking dinner and calling in the whole crew for dinner. Stonewall is a combination department with volunteer and paid crews. A fun part of the weekend is sitting down together and sharing dinner and other meals. After a hearty dinner of shepherd’s pie, the crew dispersed for the evening. Some crew members played games, enjoyed dessert (hey, we worked hard all day!), or turned in to bed early. During the night, the ambulance and engine had to wake up and rush to several medical emergencies.
On Sunday morning, the captain prepared breakfast for the crew, making sure that everyone’s dietary needs were considered. There’s a saying in the fire service: “Eat when you can. Sleep when you can.” Because we cannot plan ahead around emergency calls, it’s important to get meals in “when you can,” and a good breakfast may be the only time you get a bite all day. This was the case for Sunday on B Crew.
Before anyone could say “lunch,” the engine and truck were dispatched to a first-due house fire. The crews rushed to the units, geared up, and sped toward the scene. While en route, the responding battalion chief came on the radio and said, “Smoke column in sight.” This radio traffic helped the crew prepare mentally for a working fire. Seconds later they could see the same column of smoke as they approached the scene.
The engine arrived first to find a car and storage container fully involved and extending into the adjacent house. The engine firefighters deployed a hose line while the officer performed a 360 walk around to assess the scene. They attacked the fire as the truck crew and Tower 501 made entry through “Side A” (the front) to check for extension into the house. Because of their quick work, the home was saved from extensive fire damage.
After the fire was extinguished, crews overhauled the fire area to ensure there was no chance of re-ignition. The truck refilled their air bottles and went in to “rehab,” which is an area where all crews operating in a fire ground go to have their vitals checked before they can either continue operating or be released from the incident. Typically this area is next to a medic or ambulance unit. Once the truck was released from rehab, they boarded their unit to head back to the station.
Before they had pulled completely out of the scene, the tones chirped again and the truck was dispatched to another first-due house fire. The driver immediately spun up the lights and sirens while the officer and firefighter geared up in the cab. The dispatched address was on the opposite end of Stonewalls first due (or operating area), but the driver hurried as quickly and safely as possible.
Unlike the first fire, units arrived on scene of a middle row townhouse with “nothing showing,” which means there was no visible smoke or fire. Crews quickly investigated the fire address and the bravo and delta exposures (or the houses on either side) and discovered PVC piping that had melted and created smoke and also interior water leaking in the dispatched address. The truck was assigned salvage operations and did what they could to capture leaking water and preserve the occupant’s property.
Meanwhile, the engine was clearing the first dispatched fire. Not long after they left, they were dispatched to an outside fire. The officer saw smoke in the air as they approached an industrial lawn care business park. He decided to “lay out” the engine’s supply line so that they could connect to a hydrant outside the park. This means the engine deployed the supply hose stored on the back of the engine. Upon arriving directly on scene, they discovered a mulch fire. The driver connected the supply hose to the pump and called on the radio for the firefighter by the hydrant to turn the hydrant valve and send water to the engine. The basically acted as an extended water main and gave enough water to use the engine’s master stream deck gun. With the help of the proprietor of the facility, the engine crew saturated the mulch pile to keep it from re-igniting.
But their job was not done.
They still had nearly 1,000 feet of heavy, rubber-jacket supply line to retrieve. Knowing that the engine had a lot of work to do, the truck crew drove over to the scene to provide assist the engine crew as they disconnected, rolled, and gathered up their supply hose. The engine had to go “out of service” and become unavailable for calls as they drove back to the station with their supply hose rolled up. But the engine was brought back to readiness quickly.
Around the fire house, everything else is put on hold when a unit needs to be refitted for duty. Just like at the beginning of shift, every available crew member had a job to do, whether they were a firefighter an EMT. And everyone pitched in. Some crew members cleaned the gravel and mulch off the hose. Others clambered onto the engine to re-rack the hose. The crew remained at the station for extra time past shift change so that the engine was ready to respond for Sunday night shift.
Weekend crews are a lot of work. Training, running calls, preparing and enjoying good food, and finally saying goodbye to your “fire family” until the next shift. Stonewall Jackson VFD & RS is privileged to have such professional volunteer and full time personnel to give of their time, care for their community, and work hard.
Thanks, B Crew!