What does the typical day of a firefighter look like?
Firefighters here in Maynard work a 24-hour shift. The schedule runs from 8:00 AM to the following 8:00 AM. Typically firefighters begin arriving at the fire station between 7:00 AM and 7:30 AM. Once they get here, they relieve another firefighter. For example, a firefighter coming in that is scheduled to work as the driver of Engine 1 will come in, get a briefing from the current driver on the status of the truck. The briefing may involve what equipment is out of service or used the shift before, how much fuel is left in the truck, or any mechanical issues noted during the previous shift. The oncoming firefighter then ensures his personal equipment is in good working order and ready to go. Once the entire crew is on duty the shift typically has a meeting to outline the goals for the day, any special events, and assignments are given out at this time. Each oncoming firefighter is responsible for checking a particular piece of fire apparatus or equipment. This process takes a considerable amount of time each morning as there are many pieces of equipment and functions to inspect, test, and clear to ensure it is in good working order. It may sound redundant to have this procedure repeated each day, but it is necessary to ensure all equipment is up to speed, and that everyone is familiar with how it works. After the truck and equipment checks have been completed daily cleaning duties are done. The kitchen, bathrooms, offices, and common areas are cleaned and the floors vacuumed and washed as necessary. The next phase of the day may be inspections of a building in the community, conducting a pre-fire plan, testing part of the municipal fire alarm system, conducting a training session, giving a fire prevention or public education presentation at a school or other venue. During this entire time the crews may need to respond to emergency calls for any type of emergency imaginable. Once a call is completed a written report is generated for the state and national reporting agencies, and if the response is to a medical emergency, two reports are generated. There are times when special projects need to be completed throughout the workday such as hose testing, ladder, or SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) maintenance or vehicle maintenance. Each captain and some of the firefighters are responsible for different areas of ancillary duties. This is necessary because we don’t have the full time staff available to conduct some of these ancillary duties such as training, fire prevention, public education, communications, emergency medical training/planning etc.
Why do you wear such heavy coats and pants?
The gear that firefighters wear is designed to protect them from heat. Many people think it is fire-proof. It is not – and it will and does burn. Temperatures in a room that is on fire can quickly reach 1200° F. The gear is designed to protect firefighters from the heat created not only when things burn, but the steam generated when water is applied. This is also why we tell people to stay low and crawl when escaping a fire in their home or elsewhere. The temperature difference between the floor of a building and the air space only 2 feet above it can be as much as 200°F!
Is that an oxygen mask that you wear in a fire?
Actually the masks that we wear, Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), give us compressed air. The air that we breathe every day contains about 21% oxygen. The air in our tanks is the same. Our masks give us a positive flow of air in our masks; this means that the pressure inside of our mask is a little bit higher than that of the atmosphere. It’s kind of like walking into a sealed building and getting that little blast of air. Our masks deliver this positive pressure to keep contaminants such as hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, vinyl chloride and other toxic gases typically found in burning structures from entering our lungs. If we were to use oxygen in our masks, it could actually make the fire more intense.
How much does all your gear and mask weigh?
A firefighter wearing all of the protective gear, including coat, pants, boots, gloves, hood, helmet, and SCBA has about an extra 55-60 pounds in addition to their own weight, and any other equipment they may be carrying. This makes it harder to climb stairs and ladders, but it necessary to keep firefighters from getting hurt.
How much training does it take to be a firefighter?
This is a difficult question to answer because training never really stops. To meet the minimum requirements of a firefighter in Maynard, firefighters go through a 500 plus hour firefighting class and an emergency medical technician class that is about 180 hours. There are multiple classes that firefighters take to enhance their skills to become certified in other areas. For example, the specialty topics discussed earlier require more time in specialized training to become certified in those areas. Many of today’s firefighters come to us with a college degree already in hand. That may be a 2-year associates degree or a 4-year bachelor, or in some cases, a master’s degree. Once firefighters get on board, their education never really stops and if we totaled up all the hours of training and education it would be in the 1000’s.
What are the differences between and Engine and a Truck?
In the fire service a truck is a term used typically for an aerial ladder truck, or an aerial tower truck. An engine is what responds on most fire calls and basically converts to a giant pump once
on the scene of a fire. One could consider it the original “transformer”. Engines respond on any and all types of emergencies such as fires of all types, car accidents, hazardous materials spills, carbon monoxide alarms and even emergency medical calls.
How heavy are the fire hoses you use in a fire?
Fire hoses are hard to hold on to because of the pressure that builds up in them from the fire engine. The average garden hose probably flows about a gallon or so per minute, fire hoses are designed to flow up to 250 gallons per minutes with firefighters directing where the water goes by pointing the nozzle, just like pointing the nozzle of a garden hose at your grass. The more water that is moving through the hose, the more difficult it is to hold onto. This is why it takes more than 1 firefighter to move a hose inside a building to put a fire out. In some cases, it may take 3 or 4 firefighters when you factor in stairs and corners. Firefighters need to move these hoses very quickly to keep from getting hurt.
What’s the first thing you do at a fire?
The first firefighter on the scene will typically be a captain, and it is his/her job to do a quick size-up. This means that they do a quick evaluation to determine what is happening and to see if they may need more people to respond or if they can handle the problem without additional back-up. If they determine they have a fire, then life safety becomes the number 1 priority. They start by conducting a search for potential victims and, if found, they quickly remove them. After victims have been removed, or it is determined there is nobody in the building, then they work on putting the fire out. Sometimes this is done at the same time.
Why do you cut holes in the roof of a building on fire?
As we discussed earlier, fires get very hot, very quickly. In fact, a fire doubles in size every minute it is left untouched. Unlike television, real fires are almost impossible to see inside of buildings, the atmosphere gets very hot and very brown or black quickly, so much so that you cannot even see your hand in front of your face. This is another reason why firefighters crawl. When we cut holes in the roof, it allows much of the heat, smoke and toxic gases to be released. This is called venting, and once a building has been vented, and the heat, smoke, and toxic gases are lifted up and out, it becomes much easier and quicker to extinguish the fire. Believe it or not, this also limits fire spread and causes less damage to the structure. While it looks like a lot of damage has been created by cutting a big hole in the roof, this actually makes it easier and quicker to repair the building.
Why do you send an Engine to a medical emergency?
Great question! Medical emergencies are triaged or sorted based on the severity of the emergency. Basically we break them down into 2 distinct categories, basic life support (BLS), and advanced life support (ALS). A basic life support call might be a broken wrist or slight fever, i.e., anything not necessarily considered life threatening but still serious. An advanced life support call is anything considered life threatening. Examples would be a suspected heart attack, stroke, a diabetic emergency, or car accident, just to name a few. When we are dispatched to an advanced life support emergency the engine is dispatched to provide extra help, or in some cases, provide initial medical treatment. Engines also respond to some basic life support emergencies, depending on the situation. There may be times when the ambulance is at another emergency and we are relying on a mutual aid ambulance. Our firefighters will respond and render aid until the ambulance arrives for transport. On other occasions, the ambulance crew may need assistance with lifting a patient or removing them from a small space. Since all firefighters here in Maynard are all trained at the EMT level, they essentially are interchangeable at an emergency incident. In fact, they participate in a rotation so that everyone works on the Ambulance on a regular basis. There are many aspects to a good pre-hospital emergency medical system and to accomplish all of these, you need extra sets of trained hands at an emergency. In many cases, an extra firefighter might go to the hospital with the ambulance crew to provide help while they are on the way to the hospital. Extra people might be needed to perform CPR, collect information from family members, and assist with setting up for intravenous insertions, giving medications, and even consoling family members. I have never been to a true advanced life support emergency where extra people were not needed. The marriage between fire and EMS was a natural fit when the transition started years ago because firefighters were already in a service driven industry, and on top of that, were already located in the community. In larger communities, emergency services are spaced out in fire stations to keep response times down.
What medical training do firefighters have?
First responder training (or in our case, firefighter training for medical emergencies) is broken down into 3 broad categories. These are Emergency Medical Technician-basic level, Emergency Medical Technician intermediate level and Emergency Medical Technician-paramedic level. The basic level is for responders to triage and treat basic medical emergencies, the intermediate and paramedic levels are more advanced and the higher up a firefighter goes with their training, the more advanced pre-hospital care they can give to patients. The ability to give lifesaving drugs in the field is a real key in the long-term prognosis of a patient.
Do firefighters live at the fire station?
The answer to this is yes and no. While firefighters are on-duty, they do live at the fire station. Maynard’s Firefighter’s work 24-hour shifts, that means they come on-duty at around 7:30 in the morning and work until the next day at about the same time. While they do get to sleep in the fire station at night between calls, it is not a restful sleep. Most firefighters spend a majority of their career working on a shift and can attest first hand, that sleep in a firehouse is a tough thing to come by. When firefighters are at the station, it may be during Christmas, Thanksgiving or other holidays, as well as anniversaries, birthday parties, and other family events that we sometimes take for granted.
What are the components to an up-to-date and modern fire station?
The fire service is arguably the most dynamic profession in the World. Conditions change in a heartbeat and the mission of what firefighters do is ever increasing. An up-to-date fire station is crucial to helping to meet that mission. Some components of a modern fire station include:
- Enough apparatus floor space to fit equipment needed to meet the needs of the community. The space needed varies from truck to truck, but it is recommended that there is sufficient space in between trucks for people to walk through safely and to have sufficient space for turnout gear and vehicle exhaust systems. This means a walk through area of between 8 and 12 feet. There also needs to be sufficient space from floor to ceiling so that apparatus can easily fit into its designated parking area. There should also be sufficient room above a piece of fire apparatus for firefighters to safely stand on top to check equipment, re-pack hose, make necessary repairs etc. Currently Maynard’s Fire Station does not come close to meeting these criteria. In fact there are instances where bumpers are actually touching in order to get apparatus to fit while still closing the overhead doors. Because of space restrictions we need to store some department vehicles outside in the weather reducing their availability during emergencies. Our aerial ladder was custom built to fit into this existing space. This not only limits the capability of the truck, but also adds to the cost.
- There should be a secure area for gear storage away from the apparatus floor so that fumes, dirt and cleaning chemicals are not absorbed into the fabric of the protective clothing. Gear should also be segregated from living areas as it does contain residue and contaminants from all previous emergency calls to which it has responded. Firefighter gear can and should be washed periodically and when it becomes extremely soiled, but it is impractical and actually harmful to wash it at the conclusion of each emergency response. Therefore, keeping it stored in a secure area where it cannot be further contaminated, or it cannot contaminate anyone or anything else is an important safety and expense issue. The current storage of Maynard’s protective clothing is in 2 different areas. First, it is on the apparatus floor behind and beside apparatus where it is exposed to diesel fumes and cleaning products that will contribute to a shortened lifespan. Gear is also stored in areas with friable asbestos (clear contaminant). The second location for spare or unassigned gear is in the old holding cells which are also part of the physical fitness area.
- Firefighters are exposed to all kinds of chemical and biologic agents and a secure area for decontamination should be designated off of the apparatus floor to keep harmful agents away from living areas and food areas. This area should be equipped with facilities to decontaminate not only people, but equipment and clothing. While Maynard does have a machine to decontaminate turn-out gear, it has no suitable facilities for cleaning people without bringing them first to the living areas of the fire station. Nor does the department have a place suitable for drying gear without exposing it to the aforementioned hazards.
- Because of some of the in-house repairs done in fire stations today, each should be equipped with a clean-room for working on equipment such as self-contained breathing apparatus, radios, air monitoring equipment, etc. Conversely, there should be an area to take care of equipment utilizing gas powered engines like saws, generators, extrication power units, and fans. This should also include a safe and properly ventilated area for the storage of flammable liquids where it will not be absorbed by personal protective equipment or taken into the air system used for living space or to fill self-contained breathing apparatus bottles. Currently Maynard has no such set-up, items are stored where they will fit and work is done on the apparatus floor in between trucks or by pulling trucks out onto the apron. Cleaning supplies and flammable liquids are stored together in the same area where radios are kept and friable asbestos exists. The compressor for filling SCBA bottles is in the same area as some of the cleaning products.
- Today’s firefighters carry an additional 55-60 pounds of gear and up to 40 or so pounds of equipment with them when they jump off the truck. The largest contributor to firefighter line of duty deaths remains cardiac arrest. The largest contributors to the 70,000 plus injuries firefighters sustain annually are sprains and strains. For these reasons physical fitness is more important now than ever. A fire station should be capable of housing physical fitness equipment in such a manner that it can be walked around safely where there are no slips, trip, or fall hazards present. The size of this area will vary, but somewhere in the area of 800-1400 square feet would be sufficient. One of Maynard’s firefighters wrote and was awarded a grant in 2008 for exercise equipment. Currently it is stored in multiple areas and because of space constraints, does not have adequate aisle areas between equipment. Based on the equipment we already own, an area of between 1000’ and 1200’ feet should be dedicated to a fitness area.
- In-service training is a huge part of a firefighter’s daily activities. Modern fire stations should have a facility large enough to accommodate 30 or so people for training or meeting purposes. This facility should be equipped with adequate areas for writing surfaces and chairs, as well as dry-erase boards, projection screens, PowerPoint monitors and storage of supplies related to training. Such a facility should also be equipped with computer capabilities that allow for common practice training methods that are efficient, and cost-effective, or possibly an alternate emergency operation center. Currently the Maynard Fire Department has no such facility and in-service training is conducted in a common room/hallway with a folding table holding a portable projector and a single lap-top. There are no tables or desks for note taking or test taking.
- Adequate locker-room facilities are needed as part of a modern fire station. There are times when extra firefighters are called in for coverage, or firefighters return from fires or medical calls as well as participation in a fitness program necessitate a facility where multiple personnel can use it at once. Additionally, segregated facilities for males and females should be in place. Currently the Maynard Fire Department has two bathrooms off of the fitness area and two bathrooms in the living/office area. These do not currently meet the needs of a modern fire department facility and the bathrooms in the living/office area are not gender specific.
- The heart of every firehouse is the kitchen. This is where most daily shift meetings take place, coffee breaks are taken, and meals are prepared and eaten. It should be capable of housing several firefighters on and off-duty (meetings and training sessions), and it should be equipped with facilities capable of preparing large amounts of food in the event of firefighter hold-over or other types of events or occasions. Kitchens should also be low maintenance and include space, kitchen tools, and items that allow for adequate food preparation, storage areas, and a non-slip surface on the floor. The Maynard Fire Departments current facilities fall well short of these standards. The plumbing is deficient and in some places the walls are stained from roof leaks over the years.
- Firefighters, while busy a majority of the time during their work day, do in fact spend 24 or more hours in the fire station at a time and a place for relaxation, studying or watching television should be provided. The Maynard Fire Department does have an area for this, but it is very small and is in a high traffic area.
- Today’s fire stations are also business offices; interactions are conducted daily with the general public, contractors, homeowners, and vendors. Office spaces sufficient for conducting such business, as well as facilities for private offices, are needed for organizational efficiency. Consideration also needs to be given to our customers with disabilities. There are times when a consultation may be needed or a set of plans reviewed and firehouses should be able to accommodate people with disabilities. Currently the Maynard Fire Department does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, nor does it have space adequate for consultation or plans review with our customers when needed.
- The location of fire stations is also crucial in that the safety of a community’s citizens is paramount. Being able to exit onto a main road with good sightlines is critical to reducing the chances of fire apparatus striking private vehicles or pedestrians. Adequate parking for employees and customers is also a major consideration. And, lastly, a station should be situated so that it has the most effective response to the area it covers in the shortest amount of time possible. The current location of the Maynard Fire Department is not ideal in that it has a busy intersection adjacent to it, and has insufficient parking for staff and certainly customers wishing to conduct business.
- General safety of a fire station is important. Adequate lighting, aisle space and stairwells are necessary. Facilities should be equipped with efficient and properly working heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Maynard’s Fire Station is clearly not meeting these criteria. It has 2 identified roof leaks, and the heating system is unbalanced and not efficient. There is no central air system, and window units are placed throughout the building with portable fans placed strategically around the building to move air. The plumbing is inadequate for the building and the roof is such that a snow blower needs to be brought to the roof to clear it during winter conditions for fear it will not support the snow load. There are multiple areas where asbestos is not only visible, but on 2 occasions since 2010, has been disturbed to the point where a private clean-up company was brought in to take care of the problem.
What other things do firefighters do beside respond to emergencies?
Firefighters base their jobs on 3 different priorities; Responding to emergencies, Preparing to respond to emergencies and everything else. We have already touched on responding to emergencies so we will now focus on the other priorities here. First, preparing to respond to emergencies means things like checking the fire apparatus to ensure it is in good working order, checking personal protective equipment and SCBA, checking all the power tools like saws, fans, generators etc. This also includes checking radios and all medical equipment to make sure it is in a constant state of readiness. All of these things are done every single day. Other tasks that fall into the preparing for emergencies category would be training on new equipment, for medical emergencies, refreshing skills, conducting building walk-through’s to ensure familiarity when needed, repair broken equipment and more. The other category is inspections of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in residential and commercial occupancies to determine if fire codes are being met, testing and repair of the municipal fire alarm system, training of firefighters, the public education of school children, seniors and civic groups, record keeping for incident reports, vehicle and equipment maintenance, purchasing, emergency medical service training, reports, station maintenance among many other things. All of these ancillary tasks are performed by on-duty staff. The typical day of a Maynard Firefighter is busy all day performing all of these tasks and responding to emergencies.
What is the make-up of the Maynard Fire Department?
The Maynard Fire Department runs 4 platoons of firefighters. Each platoon is led by a captain who supervises 4 firefighters in the platoon. The captain makes the decisions about who is responsible for what apparatus and what tasks for which each individual is responsible. Each captain is also responsible for different duties or tasks that need to be accomplished such as training, fire prevention, emergency medical services, and fire department communications. Firefighters have also stepped up to assist in other areas such as public education, vehicle maintenance, SCBA maintenance, and different committees needed for various purchases or projects. The administrative group is comprised of the Fire Chief and Administrative Assistant. Click here to view the current roster.
What types of topics do you cover with public education?
This is dependent upon the audience, but typically with small children the main points we try to get across are not to be afraid of firefighters if they are searching in their homes and not to hide. As the audience gets a little older we talk about things like stop, drop and roll how to crawl under smoke, how to check for heat on their door, how to develop and execute an exit plan with their family or guardian. We teach them to remind the adults in their home to check their smoke detectors and change their batteries. When the audience is adults we tend to talk about smoke detector placement, carbon monoxide detector placement, electrical safety, medication safety, slip, trip-and-fall hazards among other topics.
Does the Fire Department look at alternative funding methods in an effort to keep costs down locally?
The short answer is yes, we do. The biggest contributor to grants is a program started in the wake of September 11, 2001 by then President Bush. It is called the Assistance to Firefighters Grant and it has multiple options for funding fire department projects. The areas are Vehicles and Equipment, Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER). Each grant is charged with a different area of funding. Maynard has applied for and received grants under the Vehicles and Equipment program. In fact, the fitness equipment here in the station as well as a Thermal Imaging Camera were purchased with that grant money. We currently have three grant requests in and are waiting to hear if we have been awarded any of them. The first grant is a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant, the second is a request for a new engine and the third is for firefighting equipment and radios. We are also writing a grant right now that we hope to obtain to increase our on-call firefighter group. We will certainly apply for more grants in the future, particularly with expensive items such as fire apparatus and major equipment like self-contained breathing apparatus. It should be noted, however, that this is a very competitive process and the awards are based on a community’s need because of financial concerns. Nationwide there are many communities more hard pressed for cash than perhaps we are here. The other major obstacle we have purchasing fire apparatus is that only a small percentage of the overall grant allocation is reserved for apparatus purchases and, again, it is based upon need. There are certainly other grants out there to be considered, and we check those periodically, however, those types of grants are usually for specific areas or items and may not perhaps be what we need.
When there is only a small fire, why do so many fire engines respond?
A “Standard Response Plan” policy is utilized on all responses. This system is a predesignated formula that determines the amount and type of equipment sent to the incident. In Maynard we send Engine 1, Ladder 1, Engine 2, Ambulance 1, as well as automatic mutual aid if we have a confirmed fire. It is much easier to cancel apparatus that may no longer be needed than it is to request it once you decide it is required.
Is the Maynard Fire Department affiliated with other organizations?
Yes, the Maynard Fire Department is a member of District 14 here in Massachusetts. District 14 is comprised of fire departments from 22 communities who make up a mutual aid group for all types of incident responses. We are also affiliated with the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Maynard’s firefighters are affiliated with the International Association of Firefighters. By being members in these groups we have fellow fire service professionals to help bounce problems, ideas and solutions off of. In today’s tough economic times, re-inventing the wheel is not only impractical, but inefficient. In many cases a problem we encounter has already been handled by someone else who can help give advice.
Why do we need to recall off-duty firefighters?
Firefighting is very manpower intensive. To properly initiate an attack on a structure fire, national studies recommend 13-15 firefighters to be on scene to do a proper job. Since we only have 5 personnel on duty, we recall all of our available off duty personnel when a call for a building fire is received. In addition, mutual aid may also be utilized. Personnel are also recalled when we render mutual aid to other communities. In order to provide properly staffed apparatus, 4 of the on-duty firefighters respond immediately when called, just as other communities do for us. This leaves our Station unmanned, so personnel are called back for protection of the town. By calling in all available personnel this provides rapid coverage, plus additional personnel if the crew that responded out-of-town requires additional assistance.
Why do some fire trucks park down the street from a fire?
Citizens may see fire apparatus parked down the street from an incident for two primary reasons: First, in situations when an EMS scene is deemed unsafe due to a potentially violent patient or there are dangerous drugs involved, engines carrying firefighters may “stage” until members of the police department have secured (made safe) the scene. Secondly, on fire calls, engine and truck companies may stage until they have been provided an assignment by an “incident commander.” Because firefighters work as a team, it is critical that they communicate where their resources are best used. This cannot take place until a “triage” of the building has been completed to identify the hazards associated with the fire.
Why does the Fire Department bring the fire engine just for a simple inspection?
Because we don’t have a full-time fire prevention officer, inspections are done by the duty captain or the duty crew. They take the engine in case they are pulled away for an emergency.
Why do you block traffic lanes at auto accidents, sometimes more lanes than one?
This is done to ensure that emergency responders on the scene, specifically firefighters, paramedics and police officers, are protected from being struck by passing cars. Every year hundreds of emergency responders are struck, injured, or even killed by passing cars at an emergency scene or during a traffic stop or medical response.
What should I do when I see or hear an emergency vehicle coming towards me, or behind me when I’m driving?
When it is safe, you should pull to the right and slow down or preferably come to a complete stop and let the fire apparatus pass by. Care should be taken to ensure that all apparatus responding have passed before you pull back into traffic, many times there will be an engine and an ambulance responding and sometimes a police cruiser.
Why is a Maltese Cross the symbol of the fire service?
According to many sources, we need to go back to 1113 AD. This is when a special group of knights were founded in Jerusalem by a Benedictine monk. These eleventh century knights, who were serving in a Jerusalem hospital, became known as the Order of Knights Hospitaller and later became the Knights of St. John. This charitable organization shared the compassion that today’s Firefighters demonstrate by caring for the ill with great kindness. Later they assisted the knights of Crusaders in their efforts to win back the Holy Land. As the Knights of St. John and Knights of Crusaders defended the city walls, their fierce opponents who were called the Saracens, staged an aggressive attack and hurled fire bombs containing highly flammable liquids. As the knights banded together they were forced to fight the flames of their attackers. It was during this intense firefight that the courage of our firefighting ancestors was demonstrated. The knights banded together, risked life and limb for their brothers and fought the flames, and saved many fellow knights. The knights were later recognized for their bravery during the epic battle located on the Island of Malta.