Column: Firefighting is dirty, exhausting work

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Shelburne firefighters douse hotspots at a recent fire.

Reporter's Notebook by Amy Woolvett

Amy Woolvett is a reporter with the Shelburne Coast Guard newspaper. She is also a volunteer firefighter.

My bunker gear, once bordering a bright yellow and highlighting my shiny newness into the fire department is now painted black with soot telling its first chapters of where it has been.

A few weeks ago we were called to a brush fire.  It was somewhat controlled when we got there and we set up a one and a half inch hose to extinguish it. 

It was the first call in three weeks and I was eager when told to take the lead on the hose.  After swirling the water over the small flames for a few minutes the fire went out. 

I couldn’t stop grinning when I drove back to my office…it was my first working fire I helped to put out.

Exactly one week later a sobering page came through at 9:23 p.m.  House fire …people possibly inside.

The drive from Sable River to Shelburne felt like seconds but in reality it was 22 minutes after the initial page that I pulled into the station. My truck was just pulling back in to refill the truck with water before returning to the scene.

“It’s a big one,” said one of my truck mates.

The people had made it out of the house and were okay, I sighed with relief upon hearing this very good news.

We rumbled up to the end of a long dirt road where I got out to try to help draft water from a small pond.

Hoses stretched for what seemed like miles and even from a distance I could see the flames completely engulfing the house and lighting up the night sky.

A long stream of police, ambulance, power and fire trucks lined the road. 

I tore my gaze away from the flames so I could focus on what was needed in front of me.

The truck’s battery was not charging and firefighters were working in the dark.  Find a flashlight.  I started to jog in my boots down the road to the nearest truck. 

The water wasn’t flowing.  Next task, find the kink in the hose.

I set off again down the long stretch this time kicking and pulling at the hose to straighten it.

As I walked I kept one eye glued to the roaring fire.

Water flowed from the pond through hundreds of feet of hose at one point branching out to three different destinations.

I was told to head to the fire. I walked up and the firefighters had beaten back the high flames to a more manageable level. 

I asked the chief what I could do.  He told me to ask the captain of the attack truck what to do next. 

Every side of the house had at least three men to a hose as they battled the flames.  I walked a full circle around and found a hose to help on.

There were sounds of popping and tiny explosions as items like aerosol cans inside the house reached extreme heat.

One of the other firefighters tapped me on the shoulder to tell me the captain was looking for me.  I walked to the front and looked up.  He was standing on the roof and motioned for me to join him.

Without hesitation I clamored up the ladder and climbed over the railing that was once a balcony.

He handed me the hose and pointed to where I should aim the jet of water. 

We did what he called the fireman shuffle along the way; a little dance of banging your foot down and edging forward to ensure the roof below our feet would not collapse.

“What is it we are trying to do,” I asked as I aimed another blast at an errant flame, thinking of various attack methods and theorems of best moving and extinguishing the flames.

“We want to put the wet stuff on the red stuff,” he said and I grinned.

I take turns with other firefighters including another rookie and after soaking the embers with repeated laps of water we are told to take a break.

We head to the nearest truck at some unknown time in the middle of the night and I am surprised to see the ladies auxiliary had turned the back of the truck into a refreshment area.  There was water, pop, coffee, cookies and granola bars that they handed out to the tired fire fighters.

This is something they do to keep the firefighters energy high when battling a bigger blaze an effort strongly appreciated.

The smaller flare up of flames has been extinguished but the battle is far from over.  The house is now a smoldering heap of embers.

If left it is guaranteed they would once again leap into flames.

Firefighters were crawling all over the smoldering mass, shoving their hoses into its depths until the water bubbled to the surface, others digging through the rubble trying to uncover fires trapped beneath.

It was wet, dirty and exhausting work.  The chief finally called an end to it but our work was far from over.

Lined up and down the road was hose after hose emptied from the backs of three fire trucks.

As I walked my way to the first hose one of the trainers stopped me and told me to hold out my arms. 

He took a small hose and soaked down my suit attempting to take some of the sludge and soot off of it.

Each hose was drained of water, laid out and folded back into the trucks ready for the next fire.

In total we were there for six hours. 

We headed back to the station exhausted, most of us with jobs to head to in a few short hours.

I removed my bunker gear and hung it on the wall. It’s greyish sooty colour now fitting in amongst the rest of the gear of my department.

 

Organizations: Shelburne Coast Guard

Geographic location: Sable River, Shelburne

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  • 2nd Gen Smoke Eater
    May 26, 2014 - 15:15

    Great Story. It's always good to hear of stories from our perspective coming from reporters who are among the brother/sisterhood. Firefighter for life.