A lot of things change in a period of 30 years. Even though the Fire Service has been around a long time and is proud of its traditions, the changes in the Fire Service in 30 years are pretty amazing.
Thirty years ago we were already past the horse drawn fire brigades, but we have still managed some pretty amazing enhancements. After the horse drawn fire apparatus, we moved to some pretty primitive gasoline powered apparatus. After the gasoline engines we moved to diesel for more power.
Thirty years ago we drove those high powered diesel fire engines and shifted the gears like we were on a race track. We got to combine the skills of a truck driver with those of a race car driver. Some of those diesel engines would really cough up the black smoke as they went down the road
Today a lot of apparatus are equipped with automatic transmissions. The early automatic transmissions lacked power and acceleration that we enjoyed. The automatic transmission also took away part of the pride of the drivers who boasted about how good they were at downshifting through the turns.
Even though the new automatics don’t need to be shifted, they are far from easy to operate. Shifting gears and setting a parking brake has been replaced by transmission retarders, anti-lock brakes, traction control, and about 10 safety switches that all communicate with each other.
Early SCBA assemblies used heavy steel bottles, uncomfortable harnesses, and flexible low pressure supply lines. The weight of the bottles was reduced by introducing aluminum tanks, which have since been replaced with composite fiberglass tanks.
The lighter weight bottles are now capable of holding pressures up to 5000 psi, as opposed to the 2000 psi of the first bottles. Skinny straps of the original SCBA have been replaced with thicker more comfortable straps with quick release buckles and adjusters.
Any one that experienced those big low pressure supply hoses getting kinked, appreciates the new high pressure hoses that don’t bend or collapse. New SCBA are also equipped with buddy breather attachments which allow us to connect directly to another firefighter instead of sticking that hose inside our coat or swapping face pieces if we ran short of air.
When we arrived on the scene thirty years ago, the officer in charge directed the companies and then worked inside with the crews. We called the front of the building the front and the back of the building the back. I’m not sure why we changed this one, but we complicated this by calling the side of a building a sector and the front and back of a building is now sector A and sector C.
Today most of the guys with the white shirts stay outside to monitor the building conditions and keep those inside safe. We have even developed a safety officer position that is solely responsible for seeing that safe practices are followed.
Change is always hard for people, especially for firefighters. All of these things changed over a long period of time, not just in a couple years. As things changed those guys that boasted about shifting gears retired, and were replaced by a whole new kind of firefighter.
A lot of today’s firefighters couldn’t even get one of those old rigs to roll. But, some of those old guys never heard of an “A” post or a hot zone.