While Hartselle Mayor Dwight Tankserley named Oct. 7-13 Fire prevention Week throughout the city the Hartselle Courier Journal took a look at the complete job of a Hartselle firefighter.
There is a lot more to being a fire fighter these days than pointing a hose and putting some water on a fire, Hartselle Fire Chief Steve Shelton said.
Shelton, 58, has been a fire fighter since 1989. He worked with the Decatur Fire Department and then came to Hartselle 8 years ago after former Chief Rickey Joe Smith retired, he said.
“There’s a lot more education that goes into it now than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Shelton said.
Firefighters must complete fire fighter training certifications but in Hartselle they are also required to get their Emergency Medical Technician certification from the state. Each fire fighter goes through about 440 hours of initial training.
“Back in the 1980s, you hopped on a truck and put water on the fire. The shade tree firefighter is extinct…The training goes with working smarter,” Shelton said.
The Chief said now responders have many different synthetic materials, drug contamination such as methamphetamine waste and hypodermic needles, and asbestos to consider.
A typical day on the job is 24 hours. The Hartselle department works a one day on, two day off schedule, which starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 7 a.m. the next day. There are three shifts, A, B, and C.
“Most people who work a 40-hour job, go home, eat dinner, watch Letterman and go to bed,” Shelton said.
Not Hartselle firefighters.
In between working emergency calls, anywhere from full-fledged fires to wrecks to medical lift assists, averaging about 1,600 calls per year, the crews at Station One and Station Two have to keep their gear in check, clean and ready for emergencies.
Between the two stations the department has three pumper trucks which hold 750 gallons of water each, one aerial, or ladder, truck that holds 350 gallons and one rescue truck that holds 150 gallons of water. The department also has a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle used for off road incidents and special events, as well as an extended-cab pickup truck, and investigator’s mobile unit.
The firefighters are responsible for checking and cleaning all of the equipment they use. They wash the trucks, test hydrants around town, test pumps, hoses, and along with their continued training and assignment - all this in between working calls.
On call, at your service
The Hartselle Courier Journal joined the B Shift at Station Two, Wednesday, Oct. 10 to spend the afternoon on the job and responded to one wreck emergency on Tunsell Road with the crew. The wreck involved two trucks, one driver had backed out of his driveway into another truck. There were no injuries but the fire department was on the scene with the Hartselle Police Department and County EMS to secure and clear the accident from the roadway.
Though the wreck was not as bad as Lt. Lee Hemmings has seen before, he said they never know what they will walk up to.
“You never know what to expect,” Hemmings said. “I’ve seen wrecks like this where it don’t look that bad and there’s two people dead. Then I had one, one night, where the car was almost split in half and the woman was fine.”
However, all calls are not always as intense. Some emergency calls are false alarms, and slightly entertaining, Hemmings said.
Hemmings said he responded to a call years ago, on a Saturday night, where an elderly gentleman wanted to know if the clothes he had on would match well enough for him to wear the next morning to church.
Other interesting calls include another one, years ago, where the crew responded to a house fire, extinguished the fire and the homeowner went into the residence and came out with two large python snakes that the fire fighters had been unaware of, Hemmings said.
“What would you have done if you reached around and picked up that hose and it had turned and looked at you?,” Senior Fire Fighter Toby Houser asked the lieutenant.
Taming the flames
On Thursday, Oct. 11, the fire department held a controlled burn of an old house for a homeowner off of Bryd Road. The structure was used for training purposes. Two of the newer fire fighters were in charge of the fire, as if they were officers, Chief Shelton said.
They were responsible for setting up the water supply, organizing the personnel, protecting the exposures, such as the wooded area and neighboring homes near the fire, and executing the burn. This provides a service to the homeowner in cost savings and allows the crew members to train in and around an actual structure fire.
It took about an hour for the flames to consume the old structure, which was about 2,000 square feet. The flames exceeded well over 2,000 degrees in temperature.
Have two ways out
During Fire Prevention Week the Hartselle Fire Department wants the public, especially children, to prepare for a possible fire.
“No matter what size it is, get out and call 911,” Chief Shelton said. “It don’t take long for a small fire to turn large, depending on what the materials and contents are.”
“The week themed ‘Have Two Ways Out!’ serves to remind us to develop and practice a home fire escape plan during Fire Prevention Week and year-round,” Mayor Tankersley said in the week’s proclamation.
“U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,389,500 fires. These fires resulted in 3,005 civilian fire fatalities, 17,500 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $11,659,000,000 in direct property loss. There was a civilian fire death every 208 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 30 minutes in 2011. Home fires caused 2,520, or 84 percent, of the civilian fire deaths. Fires accounted for five percent of the 30,098,000 total calls. Eight percent of the calls were false alarms; 66 percent of the calls were for aid such as EMS,” The National Fire Protection Association reported in September 2012.
The association urges families to prepare for possible house fires by planning at least two escape routes out of the home, and practicing. More fire prevention and safety tips can be found and printed at no cost at the National Fire Protection Association website at www.nfpa.org.
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