That’s Firefigher-Intern Peon to you… (Part 1)

ems, emt, firefighter, firefighting, jesserobbins, stories

Date: Sun, 2 Jul 2000 21:26:33 -0700
From: Jesse Robbins
Subject: That’s Firefigher-Intern Peon to you… (Part 1)

I’ve told you all about my training, about the infamous Captain Roberts, about the members of my team, and about what it is like to stand 50 feet in the air on a freestanding ladder gin. I’ve told you about internships, and EMT training, and clinical time in the hospital… I’ve even suggested that I might tell you all about what going through an academy is like. The one thing that I haven’t told you about is what I do now that I’m an intern. This update will come in several sections…

My day begins on the day before the shift at around 11pm. Hours ago I realized that I needed to have all of my gear ready to go for the morning and then got caught up in reading and writing emails. At some point, the “oh shit” factor begins to click in my now tired head, grumbling as I start a load of laundry and begin ironing my shirt out. My pants are still dirty from the week before. At some point, the wash finishes and I put the wet clothes in the dryer. My uniform shirt is now hanging off the chin-up bar, and my pants are in the dryer along with my uniform T-shirts, shorts, and black boot socks.

I set the alarm for 6:30am, I set my other alarm for 6:31am, and I go to bed. I then get suffer some paranoia and get out of bed to check to make sure both alarm clocks are actually set properly. I have a terrible fear of oversleeping and being late for duty.

I wake up at 6:30 and get out of bed… starting the dryer again so that my clothes will be wrinkle free, grab a quick shower, get dressed, and then fold some of the clothes hot from the dryer and put them in my bag. I’m now wearing my Palo Alto internship uniform: Light brown shirt with patches, black “Sam Browne” belt, matching light brown pants, black socks, and polished zippered steel toe duty boots. On my belt I have a glove pouch, leatherman super-tool, radio belt clip, and my EMT shears ( EMT shears are the same as Paramedic shears but just work harder ;-). I take a brief look in the mirror to make sure that I am totally respectable, and then grab my bag, my sleeping roll (bag, pillow, down-comforter), my backpack with books and forms, and run to my truck.

I’m presently assigned to Engine 3. For those that know Palo Alto, Station #3 is located at Embarcadero and Newell, just before Middlefield Road. It is the oldest remaining station in Palo Alto. It is a single company station, housing one of the older open cab engines and the rescue boat. It’s 7:30 on the nose as I pull into the driveway and open the sliding gate. As an intern, I am supposed to arrive first in the morning and also get lowest priority in parking… so unless there are 4 spaces open, I park pressed to the fence by the gate. I leave the gate open for the shift change and walk in the door. The previous night’s crew is awake, coffee is usually brewing, and sometimes the newspapers are in. If not, I make the coffee and go outside to get the newspapers and lay them out neatly on the table.

By this point, I’ll probably speak with the firefighter on duty about their shift, find out if anything interesting happened, and if there is any special information that I need to know. Then it’s off to my hanger to get my helmet, turnouts (heavy protective clothing), and “red bag” containing my wildland firefighting equipment. It all must be checked to make sure that it is in proper working order, that nobody played any practical jokes and put weird things in it or hidden anything, that all the things I need are either in the pockets or otherwise attached to the jacket, suspenders, and pants. I carry a set of firefighting gloves, a NOMEX flash hood, straps to hold my gloves, heavy wire cutters, a hose-strap, earplugs, a few dollars in cash, and sometimes a small disposable camera. All this equipment gets stored on the engine or attached in various ways. Because the cab is open for the “tailboard” (rearward facing seats behind the driver and captain) getting all my equipment aboard is a bit tricky. I sit behind the driver/engineer on the left side of the engine. My helmet and coat go next to my seat on the motor compartment. My boots and red-bag get attached to the side of the engine on two separate folding foot holds. My box of latex gloves and at least one water bottle go to the right and left of the seat between the seatbelt equipment. Anything else gets crammed into whatever compartment I can find to fit it in where it is not in anyone way. The last thing I do is connect my headset to the engine’s communication system. It’s very noisy on the engine, especially sitting in an open cab with the engine running and the sirens on. The headset protects my hearing and allows the crew to communicate while we are driving around.

I’m now officially “on duty”. If there were an intern from the previous day on, I would relieve them by telling them that “I’ve got it from here”. As there is not yet an intern on every shift, it’s really mine from when I show up, but there is a certain feeling of the changing of the guard when I put on my equipment.

At this point I begin checking out the engine itself. I am responsible for each and every tool, hose, nozzle, radio, or medical supply on the engine. I start with the “green bag” containing all our basic first aid supplies and oxygen equipment as it is the most often used and abused tool on the rig. Sometimes things need to be restocked, recharged, or refilled, and almost always I have to rearrange the some of the gear so it’s how I like it. Much of my time on a medical call is spent grabbing things from the bag and giving them to whomever is the patient person so it’s extremely important that I can get at things when requested. Then I test out the defibrillator, suction unit, c-spine equipment, and burn kit to make sure everything is operational, stocked, and in good condition. I inventory the Self-Contained-Breathing-Apparatuses (SCBAs), spare air bottles, tools, ropes, lights, fire extinguishers, ladders, hoses, and hose appliances on the rig. At some point the firefighter shows up and begins his or her own check of the gear. It’s both of our responsibilities to make sure everything gets checked out. At 8:00am we run up the flags and shortly thereafter I finish checking out my equipment, the oncoming engineer and captain arrive and relieve their counterparts. We have a brief station meeting and then it’s time for the captain to do paperwork, the engineer to make sure the Engine is running properly, and for the firefighter and I to begin cleaning the station…

During this time, we are always ready to go on a call. Sometimes the bell rings and we are out for the rest of the day, but usually we make it at least to this point without screaming out of the station with sirens blaring and lights ablaze.


Jesse Robbins
San Jose, CA