Everyone has things they don’t like about their job, if you work at a retail store you probably don’t like Black Friday. And if you drive for a living, you aren’t a fan of bad weather. Firefighters have days that we don’t like, for example, weekends, holidays, and our kid’s birthdays. But we also have certain calls that always give us that nasty feeling in our stomach when the call comes in.
On the top of every firefighters list of horrible calls are those that involve kids. It might be for a baby not breathing, or a fire with some kids trapped. No matter how well trained we are or how calm and cool we think we are, when those calls come in we all tense up and change gears. When you respond to a call with kids, there is a lot of emotion and you can expect some desperate and screaming parents expecting us to make everything better. If we can make things better, these can be some of the most rewarding calls. But there is just something about calls involving kids that just cuts right through and hits us in the heart. I think every firefighter will agree they hate these calls.
Somewhat similar to kid calls are calls that involve people that we know. If we hear an address that sounds like it is someone we know, everyone starts talking and wondering if that is really firefighter Smith’s house. If we are responding on these calls, we usually find out before we get there what is going on usually by a phone call to the family from one of the firefighters on duty. I have been on some serious calls at firefighter’s house, and not really any simple calls. I guess they would have figured those out themselves.
As a company officer, one of the most frustrating calls is for the smell of smoke in a building and you can’t find the source. Leaving a building in that situation causes a lot of worry. It really sets you up for looking bad. There are a few common causes of these smells that you wouldn’t think of. Halogen light bulbs get really hot. A lot of these lamps have been recalled because they have caused fires. I have been on several calls where things had fallen on the halogen bulb and were smoldering. Bugs, balloons, and paper from a drinking straw are what I found smoldering on these lights. Another cause for burning smells is a plastic or rubber utensil falling on the heating element of a dishwasher. For a smell in the kitchen I always look in the dishwasher first. Sump pump batteries connected to trickle chargers can overheat and cause an unusual smell as well.
Firefighters can look calm and collected on the outside but when we get these kinds of calls, it’s all business. We drive faster, we joke less, and we think harder. We all take a deep breath when these calls are over. Hopefully, the discussion is about how the incident could have had a much worse outcome. Sometimes no matter what we do, there is a bad outcome. In those instances we need to realize that we can’t control everything that happens. No matter how fast we get there or how much we train, good calls, bad calls, it all part of the job.
By John Morse
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