Friday, February 27, 2009

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.....

We had drill this week that I knew was coming down the pike from our disgruntled Chief (if someone's disgruntled, then why isn't "gruntled" a word too?) .

We had a drill two weeks ago with an outdoor live burn that didn't go as hoped. The hydrant tapping process was, for lack of a better word, complete and utter chaos. As our chief stated at the end of the training drill..."If this had been an actual fire, we'd be doing nothing but raking up ashes, and I'd be turning in my white helmet out of sheer embarrassment." Yowch. The truth hurts sometimes.

We had complete communication breakdown, newbies running around with their heads up their asses (yours truly included in that mix) and line officers throwing their hands up in the air out of sheer frustration. Not the most effective night of training, but I didn't complain because I got to play with the hose and don my air pack, which I don't get to do much of as a probie.

I walked into the station house expecting the usual 15 minutes of jovial milling around before we got down to business.Uh-uh. Not this time.Chief glanced at me as I walked in and said "Get your gear on, we don't have time for social niceties tonight. You're on 3511 with Ron, Carl and Randy(all the other probies except Ron's wife Amy, who's recovering from surgery). Dick's driving (Dick is the President), Bill (Captain 1) is running ops off-rig, and Chris (Captain 2) is riding shotgun. We have a lot to do tonight so step on it"Yikes. I didn't dare ask him what we were doing, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it might have something to do with drilling on hydrants.

I geared up (it was noticeably quiet in the apparatus bay) and got on the Pierce (thanks to Jim Brunelle for explaining not only what I was riding on, but the differences between that one and the other equipment we have---hoo-boy do I have a lot to learn about apparatus) in my assigned Probie jump seat.Dick announced the drill; we have a huge circular driveway in and out of our house, with two hydrants in the back separated by about 300 feet. We were going to have our first and second due engines out, and we were going to practice tapping hydrants and pulling and throwing ladders until we had it down.We had one "run-through" with everyone off the truck while the procedure was demonstrated and explained, and then it was go time.

Evolution number 1 had me and Chris working in tandem on the hydrant, with Ron hooking the hose to the engine, and Carl and Randy throwing the ladder up on the shed and practicing hauling the K-12 saw up with a rope. The engine stopped and in my adrenaline fueled haste I almost did a face plant getting out, but managed to pull it back in time before I hit the pavement face-first. Bill, who was standing outside waiting for us, looked at me, did an almost imperceptable eye roll, and then barked out "Move it...time IS a factor"....I jumped up on the back (thankfully having remembered to grab the bag of hydrant tools) grabbed the nozzle and hauled ass back to the hydrant with Chris on my heels. Screw up number one was almost forgetting to wrap the hose. Screw up number two was making plans to tap the WRONG side of the hydrant first, but Chris was talking quietly at me the entire time giving me verbal cues to forestall any more eff-ups. Meanwhile Bill is borderline screeching at me to "move it!!"

I got the hydrant tapped and looked at Dick for the signal to start the flow, but that night was a dry drill, we weren't going to charge the lines.Bill then yelled out "Too slow, everyone was WAY too slow, we're doing it again. Repack the hose and let's go."We repack the hose bed and jump back on the engine. NO ONE is talking at this point, except to discuss who was going to be doing what on the next round.Six rounds later and I'm sweating rivers. My arms are tired from hauling hose and repacking, and we're not even halfway done.

Bill is a little less aggravated, but not by much.7th round switches things it's no more team drilling. One off to run the hose to the hydrant, same person then has to run back to the engine and hook up the hose to the truck, then run back to the hydrant to await the signal from Dick. (I never thought I'd be this grateful to see someone's arm go up in a circle over their head)--meanwhile the rest are working on ladder and saw-hauling.So guess who's up on deck first? I'm breathing like I just ran a 10K, and the entire time I'm bargaining with both God and the Devil in my head to get me through it and not screw it up. What it SOUNDED like in my head was "pant, pant, pant....gottagetthisright...gottagetitdonefast......pleasedon'tletmescrewup.....pant, pant, pant"Off the engine, grab the hose, REMEMBER TO WRAP IT (yay for me!!), give Dick the signal to drive on....remember to unwrap the hose (double yay for me!!) --get the couplers off, hook up the hose on the right side (yay for me count now at three ) and run like I'm being chased by grizzly bears back to get the hose hooked up to the truck.

Did I mention that Bill was about one foot behind me the entire time not saying a word, just watching me intently waiting for me to make a mistake? No? Well, he was and it was intimidating as hell. I'm now breathing like I've climbed Everest and set a world record reaching the summit, and "sweaty" doesn't even touch how profusely I was perspiring. BUT......I got it done right and I got it done fast.Three more evolutions later and on the last one, Bill has us pull every inch of line off the engine and then turn around and repack it. He's still not saying much to any of us other than directives.

We ride back into the station, get off and as a group, head outside (it was in the high 40's temp wise at that point) and start stripping off bunker gear. I literally saw steam coming off of me. Every article of clothing I had on looked like I had taken it out of the washing machine in mid-cycle (but I suspect it didn't smell that way) and I was shaking from head to toe I was so tired.We did the engine inspection form and headed back in to get our recap. Bill is standing there looking deadly serious...and I'm thinking "uh oh" ....and then he started a slow smile....which morphed into a grin....which turned into a high-five and a back-slap for each of us. We had done ok, better than ok, and we "had it down".Tough love? Yup, but I'm pretty sure I can tap a hydrant in my sleep now, and when every second counts in a real emergency, that's the kind of training that you can't take shortcuts on.

Now if I could just get the hang of that hose-packing thing--for some reason I can't quite get the hang of where to fold and where to put the couplers, even after ten evolutions.I suspect I'll get my fill of that during FF1.

Stay safe, and in the meantime, I'll be counting all my bruises.

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