A day in the life…

ems, emt, firefighter, firefighting, jesserobbins, lessons, stories

(names changed)

So, seeing as how it is INCREDIBLY slow today, I thought I would tell you about a recent day in history… Monday June 5th, 2000. This email will

go into some medical detail. If you are not interested in reading about what we encounter on a call please dont read on.

I arrived at the station as per usual around 0730 and began my morning duties as I described in my last update. Checking out my gear, putting it on the rig, checking out the rig, the station etc.

0800 Capt Abrams Relieved Jones
Abrams, Sherman, Blackford
Intern Jesse
Information Exchange
Check Equipment

I should perhaps explain a few things about bells, alarms, dispatches, and the like…

Contrary to the way movies portray the fire service, going on a call is a
fairly simple event. Movies and television show us doing some kind of menial work, and when extremely loud bells or horns start ringing everyone makes a mad dash to get on the
engine which goes screaming out into traffic with very little regard for the motorists, who all (of course) yield perfectly to the lights and sirens.

Reality is somewhat different…

Typically, a citizen calls 911 and is routed to the Hightree Main Dispatch center located underneath city hall in a bunker of sorts. Dispatch receives the call and begins asking the caller a few basic questions, they then transmit a “pre-alert” to the stations over the radio. Normally (during the day) we have our station radio over the PA system. We hear a dispatch that goes something like this:

“Medical Call, 123 Lytton, for Engine 3 and Medic 2”

At which point we calmly put down our equipment, close and secure any open
doors at the station, and change into whatever gear is appropriate. Sometimes
this means just putting on a uniform shirt for a call, sometimes this means
taking off your uniform and putting on turnouts. For medical calls during
the day, we take put on uniform shirts.

This takes between 5-25 seconds. During this time the dispatcher is getting
more information from the caller and dispatches the units.

We hear:

Followed by DTMF tones that activate our station bell and PA system (if
not already active)

The bell is a relatively quiet, simple note. It is accompanied by most
of the lights in the station coming on if they are not already on.

The dispatcher then gives us some more information… for instance:

“Engine 3 and Medic 2, patient is a 21 year old male. Reporting party
is advising that he fell through a plate glass window while urinating.
Has sustained facial lacerations and is reportably intoxicated”.

Normally, the Captain, Engineer, and Firefighter all go to the big map and
verify the location and route to be taken to the scene. I’m usually getting
on the rig at this time. As an intern, the engine should not have to wait
for me to get ready so it’s less of a rush if I just hop on before they do.

The captain presses the “Acknowledge” button on the console of our dispatch
system which tells the dispatches that we heard them, and are about to
head out of the station to the call. Sometimes the captain also presses the
“Light Preempt” button which gives oncoming traffic a red and clears the direction of traffic we wish to go in by giving them a green.

My seat is behind the Driver/Engineer. I climb aboard the rig, sit down
(facing aft), and put on my headset. Everybody else climbs aboard, the
engineer opens the garage doors, the firefighter and I both say “Set”.
The captain tells the dispatchers “Engine 3 Responding”

We pull out of the station and pray that the general public behaves as they
are supposed to and:

  1. Sees or hears the Fire Engine
  2. Does not immediately steer into the fire engine
  3. Does not immediately steer into another car
  4. Does not block us in by directly obstructing us
  5. Does not block us in by causing another car to get stuck in front of  us.
  6. Does not decide to follow us because we are clearing traffic
  7. Does not do some other totally moronic thing because they are talking on their cell phone, yelling at their children, reading some document, grooming or applying makeup, or some combination of the above
  8. Does not combine some or all of the above options resulting in death or serious injury to ourselves and the general public.

It’s extremely dangerous to be driving Code-3 (lights and sirens) for the
above reasons. Even though I am in an open cab, the rig weighs over 31,000
lbs dry and I sit 4 feet up. In an accident, we may be injured, but the
main problem will be for the citizens who are involved with the accident.
We try to avoid this, but at least once during any response somebody will try
to turn into us, will block someone else and cause them to turn into us, wont
see us until we are right behind them and then get totally startled when
they become aware of the rig. Code-3 driving is probably the biggest hazard
we face on a day to day basis.

Anyway, it’s just about 0800, I’m just finishing my checkout of the medical
equipment, the firefighter is going over the rig, and the captain and engineer
are getting cleaned up in the bathroom. The radio cracks to life, the
tones sound, and we are all caught just a little sooner than anyone is
prepared for.

It’s a bit hectic as we put everything back on the Rig and run on our first

0803 Crescent, 31 yo female. Pain in LLQ, M1 to SUH

We arrive on scene to a large, sparsely decorated house. I get off the rig and get the Green Bag, the Suction unit, and the De-fib and follow the
Capt Abrams and Firefighter Blackford into the house. We are met by a frantic man. He is Asian and there is a slight language barrier. It appears
that his wife has recently had an ectopic pregnancy. She is experiencing extreme abdominal pain in her Lower Left Quadrant (LLQ), is vomiting, and
is not responding to us verbally. We later find out that she also speaks very little English.

I set up the suction unit in case she begins aspirating her vomit, Jeff checks her vitals and puts her on high-flow oxygen, the captain talks to the husband. Steve, the engineer, shuts down the rig and then comes inside. Steve was a longtime paramedic, so he takes over with the exam of the patient. Jeff backs out and I get her blood pressure. She begins to vomit after I get her Blood Pressure (which is very low), and so I go into the bathroom to get her trash can to use as a basin. Steve is asking her about any vaginal bleeding, which through translation we are told she does not have. When I look in the bathroom it is obvious that we are having a bit of a communication problem as the basket is full of bloody napkins. I take the trash bag out, set it on the floor, and bring it into the bedroom.

At this point the paramedics arrive and become the patient person. The captain passes all the information we have gotten along to them and I tell them about the discovery in the bathroom. We were all surprised when her husband told us she had not had any bleeding.

The medics put her on an EKG and start an IV to replace some of the fluids
she has lost. I take a second set of vitals. Things are improving.
We move her onto a gurney, and we all help the medics load her into the
ambulance. They go code 3 to Stanford.

I put everything back on the rig while the capt. finishes his report. Jeff
and Steve clean up the mess the medics left behind, and then we clear the

0930 Housework

I do the station duties with Jeff. It’s a less thorough job today because
we have a bunch of other projects to take care of. At about 1000 we leave
the station and go to Station #2 to fill up some SCBA bottles.

On our way back we stop by Peet’s and get some Coffee, then return to the
station for about a half an hour while I review some hose stuff.

At about 1130 we head out to go pick up our lunches at the Safeway on Middlefield by Oregon Expressway.
We all get sandwiches and head back to the station so
I can study hoses and the rest of the crew can study for their EMT recert.
Just as we are opening our lunches…

1201 – University Ave, 74 y/o female SOB m1 to SUH

This call is at one of Hightree’s many elderly care facilities. The
woman is having some trouble breathing, and has been for some time.
We arrive on scene, are taken to the top floor, and are greeted by her
RN. The RN is part of a pool that cares for many of the people in the

The woman is unresponsive and drooling. Her respiratory problems are coming
largely from saliva that she is aspirating. I hook up the suction again,
Jeff takes vitals, I put her on oxygen. The RN begins giving the Captain
a list of meds that the woman is on, Jeff and I ask if she diabetic.
He insists that she is not, however there are needles everywhere and insulin
in her refrigerator. The RN decides that she might be. Managed Care at
it’s best…

Anyway, the medics arrive, start an IV with some glucose. We move her
to a gurney and then outside to the ambulance. She goes Code3 to Stanford.

Notice how unreliable people at the scene are?

We return to quarters at about 1245…

1246 – Middlefield Road. False alarm workers painting

This is a call at a school right next to the station. We change into
our turnouts and drive to the alarm panel. There is a large group of construction workers waiting for us as we drive up.
They forgot to disarm the panel before starting to work on a section and it set off the alarm. We return to quarters and sit down to start eating again…

1315 (1:15pm) – Highway 101 Metal into a vehicles windshield

Responding on the freeway is always a bit complicated:

  1. Fire Apparatus do not accelerate very quickly
  2. Vehicles slow/stop for accidents, creating traffic in the direction we need to go.
  3. Vehicles slow/stop when fire apparatus drive around code3 on the freeway to gawk creating traffic in the direction we need to go.
  4. Vehicles act erratically when they see a fire engine driving code3.
  5. They will block us, they will attempt to follow our wake through traffic, they will pull out in front of us. Most drivers are idiots.

God help the person that gets caught following an emergency vehicle
to get around traffic. People do it all the time, blocking off our
support units when they realize that those red lights BEHIND them
need to get by. Because my seat is not enclosed, I get to glare and
wave the person back into regular traffic…

Sometimes, to get around REALLY bad traffic, we will go down the freeway into
oncoming traffic. This is some scary shit. Normally CHP will block traffic
for us when this happens or dispatch units going in opposite directions to
find the crash.

This time getting to the scene is a bit easier. People are staying out
of our way, and the afternoon traffic hasn’t started to build up yet. We
roll up to the accident to see a Semi Tractor-Trailer and a 1990’s Corvette.
The corvette has a 2 foot piece of metal sticking out of the drivers-side
windshield. We see some people standing outside of the car.

CHP, Engine 4, and Medic 2 arrive at the same time from various directions.
The CHP officer blocks traffic, we go look at our patients, and Engine 4 is

The metal in the drivers side is a piece of road debris that was thrown
by the semi. The it missed the very surprised driver by inches, embedding itself in his steering wheel. He and his companion were on their way to a funeral.
It was very close to being his own.

Amazing as it is, there are no injuries. All but CHP are released who stays
to get reports and wait for the corvette to be towed.

I snap a picture for posterity. Sorta fun.

To MSC to check for broken bolt from engine. Not from engine

Before returning to station, we decide to stop at the Municipal Service Center
to have a bolt checked out to see if it fell of the Engine. The mechanic
literally sniffs it and says “Nope, not from a fire engine”.

Then he backs this up with “You don’t have that color paint on your rig”. Suits
us, we all pile back in and head back to the station. The captain has some
other plans tho…

Ging road for Hose, Ladder, Forcible Entry

We take a familiar right turn onto Ging road. This means that I’m about to
be drilled on something. I begin getting my equipment set for when the capt
gives me my orders.

“Jesse, the small concrete building has smoke showing. I want you to make a
hydrant connection and return to the engine.”

I step off the engine and put on my coat, helmet, and gloves. Walking to the
back of the engine, I hop on the tail board and grab the red hose strap attached to our 5″ Large Diameter hose. I pull off maybe 25 feet on the first pull, enough to make it to they hydrant, put the hose strap around the base of the hydrant, and yell to the engineer “LAY LINE!!!”. The engineer drives toward the fire with the captain. I remove the hose strap from the hose along with a toolbag attached to the end of the hose. Taking the hydrant-wrench out of the bag I remove the cap from the hydrant, pull the hose between my legs gripping the 25 pounds or so worth of “brass” on the end of the hose with my knees so that I can thread the couplings on. I tighten the connection by hand and then open the hydrant.

Water fills the snaking hose out, filling it with over 100 gallon of water in about 8 seconds. The hose now weighs over 800lbs in it’s first length. I then run to the cab, meeting the captain who tells me that I have a fire in a small concrete structure to my right.

I pull the transverse inch and a half preconnected hose out 150 feet, and lay it in a series of “S” curves. I then stand ready at the door for the captain to
come over to me and give me my next instruction.

He comes over and asks me why I haven’t asked for water.
I told him I was waiting for him…

He tells me that I am supposed to have water already.

I call for water, and the engineer “charges” the line. I begin to mask up with my SCBA so I can fight the fire inside the building. The water hits the nozzle and starts to push. I have the nozzle placed under my foot, and pick it up  while wrapping a hose strap around it to keep it closer to my body. The captain
tells me to advance the hose and spray some bushes in the distance. I do so for about a minute when he  informs me that we are ready to make entry to the building.

Again I hesitate, waiting for instruction. Again, I get this puzzled look from Capt Abrams. I say, do you want me to just do it? He says, Umm… yeah… would you wait at a fire scene?

I tell him no, he says: “Right. Then come on, go.”.

I try the door for heat, down on my knees in a “duck walk” position.
Feeling with the back of my hand for heat, listening for the sounds of fire.
I try to open the door. It’s locked. The captain asks:

“It’s locked, what are you going to do?”

I stand and start trying all of the other doors on the building. All locked.

“What are you going to do?”

“Force Entry Captain…”


I decide that I would use a Halligan bar on the main door to pry the door through the jam.
The captain has me walk around again and suggests that I cut the padlocks off another exterior door to gain entry.
Some other options I consider are breaching the wall with a sledgehammer, and using the Hurst Spreaders on the door.

Capt. Abrams instructs me to go ladder the building with the 24 foot ladder
and get on the roof. I go back to the engine, take the roof and 24 foot ladders
off and go to the building with the 24. I plant it a little far away, and have
to walk it into the building.

“Take the hose on the ladder and spray the roof”.

Ever climbed a ladder before?
Try climbing it with a 70 lb object.
Then try pulling that object up with one hand,
Then lock onto the ladder and have that object push back on you with about
50 lbs of force.

Not fun. But manageable.

I’m sweating like a pig. That’s all the drilling for the day. We disconnect
and empty hoses, stow ladders, and get the rig ready to go.

We get back in quarters at about 1400 (2pm). Captain Abrams, Steve, and
Jeff finish lunch, I go shower and change into fresh clothes.
Clean again, I get back into uniform and go watch EMT recertification videos
with the rest of the crew.

1455 Cowper Street 8 Y/O Full arrest, canceled by E1 who took call

I end up listening to this call on the radio. The kid didn’t make it… sorta glad I didn’t have to go.

Engine 1 is taken out for CISD (Cumulative Incident Stress Debriefing) CISD is an opportunity for people on a hard
call to talk it through, to make sure that nobody is having any problems, and to let everyone know
that they did their best in spite of the loss. We can’t save everyone, even if we really want to.

1536 Cowper St, 53 y/o male “heart stopped beating” VA Hospital

Back to my good ‘ol cow palace days for this call. This is a halfway house
for veterans with relatively minor psychological problems. We are greeted by
an older gentleman living in a squalid room about the size of a handicapped
bathroom stall. It smells slightly worse than a public toilet. There are
cigarette butts everywhere, trash piled in corners, and generally that sort of disgusting feeling that people who don’t care for themselves exude.

Jeff asks: “Hello sir, what seems to be the problem”.
Patient: “Well, Sir, about an hour ago my Heart quit out on me.”
Captain: “Could we get you to put out that cigarette, we would like to
put you on some oxygen”
Jeff: “What is your name?”
Patient: “Corporal Williams, Number #3292304A4,
Steve: “What do you mean quite out on you?”
Patient: “Well Sir, I was watching TV and my heart just stopped beating…
“I followed the SOP and it’s tickin’ over again…”
Dispatch: “Medic 2 is unavailable, AMR is responding Code-3 from Mountain
View. Approx 20 minute ETA”

This means that ALS (Advanced Life Support) is about 20 minutes away from
the scene at best speed. Fortunately for our patient, he is not exactly
in need of ALS. Normally response times for an ambulance are around 6 minutes.
AMR does not serve our area, so we have a while to wait.

They arrive, walk our friend down to their rig, and head off to Stanford so
our patient can be evaluated.

I hope his heart troubles don’t come back. Good thing he was able to get
it tickin over again. 😉

We go back to the station for a bit, and then head back out to Hobee’s for dinner.
Our station kitchen is being repaired, so we have to eat at restaurants close by.
Dinner is a bit uneventful, other than some general complaining about
my recommendation of the house iced tea which everyone decides is way way way
too spicy.

We get back to the station and Jeff and I go work out for about an hour. Then
we all change into sweats and watch TV in the day room. I study at the table
and watch TV for the next few hours.

People head off to sleep around 0030 (12:30am). I’m last to bed, and shut
down the lights and make sure all the doors are locked. I share a dorm with
Jeff (the captain and engineer get their own dorms). I unroll my sleeping bag
on my bed, grab my pillow, and crash.

0057 Cowper Street, Good Intent Call Canceled by PD after staging.

The bells ring and the station lights come on. I pull on my socks and run down
the hall to hear the dispatch info as it comes off the radio. Everybody else
shows up several seconds later.

“Engine 3, Medic 2 respond on a possible domestic violence incident. Scene
is not safe, RP (reporting party) is screaming on the phone. Stage until
cleared by PD”

We roll out of the station. It’s cold and I’m groggy. Still, it’s kinda neat
to be pressed against the side of the engine for warmth as we speed toward
the call. Our lights are on, but are siren is largely off because there is
nobody driving around PA right now.

Dispatch keeps updating us, the scene keeps sounding uglier. We arrive
to find 3 or 4 squad cars outside of the residence we are dispatched to.
We wait for about 5 minutes outside and then a cop strolls outside.

“Apparently the girlfriend called because her boyfriend was drunk and she
was angry at him. He is fine, is refusing care, and there is no emergency”

We turn around, put the rig back into the station, and go home.

I wake up around 0645 and open the station, making sure coffee is made,
newspapers are laid out, and the morning shift rotation is ready to begin.

Relief arrives for some of the crew, others are held over for overtime.
I take my gear off the rig, hang it on my hooks, and head off to my
day job.

Thanks for reading.