Bird-in-Hand Fire Company purchased 18 new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) at the beginning of 2016. These new air packs replace the ones that had been in use since 1999.
The back of every seat on the firefighting apparatus contains an air pack that the firefighters slip into as they head to a fire. The packs fit like a backpack. Both the backpack and the face mask in the new models are more comfortable with better padding and weight distribution.
With the air cylinder on his back, a firefighter uses the mask anytime he enters a burning building or encounters a hazmat situation, excessive smoke, and toxic fumes. The new air packs have a heads up display (HUD) in the mask that shows the amount of air left in the air cylinder. Plus the special connection on the back is universal across all brands and can be used by any Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) to resupply air when a firefighter is in trouble.
Chief Lonnie Kauffman says, “Another advantage of the new air packs is their true 30-minute cylinders. With the old packs a fire fighter had only 15-20 minutes of breathing air in the cylinder.”
Bird-in-Hand received a grant in the amount of $48,735 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through their Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG). The total price for the air packs was $122,000.
The following article continues a series detailing various positions that our firefighters fill. From basic skills to top management, all roles are vitally important in making our Fire Company function well. We hope these articles help community members better understand how we function as a team using everyone’s strengths within a chain of command.
Joining hands to do the best job possible
At Bird-in-Hand there is a pool of twenty Fire Company Members who drive the vehicles to the scene of an emergency. Many of these engineers are trained and experienced at driving all four apparatus: tanker, pumper, and two squad trucks.
The first responsibility of the engineer is to drive safely to the emergency. Driving defensively means always being aware of how the public responds to the apparatus with its flashing lights and sirens. In the forefront is the thought, “What is that other driver going to do?” Engineers make sure an intersection is clear before proceeding through a red light. The speed limit may be exceeded under normal and safe conditions.
At the emergency scene the engineer stays with his apparatus. He needs to thoroughly know the location and function of all of the firefighting equipment on his vehicle. That way he can help the firefighters secure the equipment they need as they exit the truck.
The engineer who drives the Pierce Lance Pumper is the person who operates the pump. There are sequential steps to manning the pump and with hours of training and practice, they become almost instinctive to the engineer. Operating the pump requires a specific skill set and the ability to work quickly. Experience also makes it possible to detect trouble or changes by listening to the various sounds that the pump makes.
After the apparatus returns to the station, the engineer has a check list that he follows to prepare the truck for its next call. If the truck needs to be washed, he enlists helpers. He makes sure that the driver’s seat is properly positioned, the radio is set on the correct channel, and all of the truck systems are reset. Also important is checking the fuel gauge; the tank must always be at least three quarters full.
At Bird-in-Hand a member has to be 21 years or older to begin training as an engineer. The first drives are around the parking lot of the Fire Station to get the feel of how to maneuver the apparatus. Then there are many hours of practice runs on the road and additional hours of operating the pump. Only then is the new engineer ready to drive the apparatus to an emergency.
When a fire company is dispatched for a house fire, there are five essential questions that need answers so that firefighters can do their job. Their priorities are protecting lives and protecting property, in that order. When the fire chief arrives on scene, he will immediately need to know the following:
- Where are the people?
- Where is the fire?
- How big is the fire?
- How big might the fire become?
- Where might it go in the next several minutes?
Answers to these questions affect where the chief tells the fire trucks to park, what he tells crews to do initially, and whether he calls the dispatch center and asks for a second alarm. At the Bird-in-Hand Fire Company we use our annual census book as one tool to help answer the question of how many people could be in a house (especially at night) and whether there are hazards present that could make the fire worse, such as a propane tank or oxygen cylinders.