Sometimes disaster happens. Sometimes the first people on scene are locals. Sometimes locals gather together into volunteer associations. Sometimes those associations call themselves Fire Fighters. After they become an association they get to go out on incidents with or to the aid of state and federal resources. Sometimes the state and federal resources provide us with learning opportunities so that when a fire, medical emergency, or natural disaster occurs, we get to take charge instead of being a background setting.
It is important for anyone to be involved in what goes on in their community and when you’re a volunteer you have a finger on the pulse of your neighbors and the countryside more than any government official. Still, to react to . . . say . . . a wildfire a mile from your house, (yes, I live in the boonies) you need training and experience. Being in charge is not just a huge responsibility, it is a massive stress on the brain, body, and will.
It is a curried opinion that you get promoted to one of these hot seats by making wise cracks, but I’ve dodged the bullet so far so how true could it possibly be?
I am a firefighter with no responsibilities except to look out for my own neck, and the necks of my partners, keep the fire from spreading, and keep the equipment running. It’s a pretty cushy job compared to what the Incident Commander (I.C.), Operations, and Crew Bosses have to deal with.
That was what was so amazing when the Emergency Planning Committee planned a huge exercise just for the I.C., Ops, and Crew Bosses to practice on with no real danger. They set up two incidents, one being a mass-casualty (Ew, makeup artists!) and the other a wildland fire. Somehow these people managed to organize 200 individuals into teams to work on first one then the other incident.
The first incident for my department was the wildland fire one which uncovered hiccups in our systems and highlighted equipment difficulties. Uh oh! But then again, that was what the whole thing was intended to do. The chaos they created for us was nothing compared to the real deal, but it was good practice and a good shakedown to get all the kinks worked out of our gear and trucks before the actual fire season started.
It lasted for about an hour with us attacking vicious strips of caution tape hung in bushes and trees. Then they shut it down for everyone to get together in a big group and talk about it. That alone was a better learning tool than anything else and everyone was glad to jaw about what to do if it was the real thing.
Then they fed all of us ravenous workers lunch and then sent us out on the mass-casualty incident. A bunch of highschoolers painted themselves up and wore ripped T-shirts, pretending to be hurt so we had to take care of them. Those of us not helping with the incident got to sit back and watch the goings on from a ways back.
Overall it was good practice for the real thing and afforded variety in our experience that we wouldn’t be able to achieve without great risk in the real thing. Every little bit of practice, memorization, and learning adds to us and gives us the tools to deal with real problems when they show up. And they do show up. As much as we would like to believe the world is tame and civilized, there are still wildfires, overturned vehicles, and structure fires. People get hurt if those in charge don’t know what they’re doing, and while the risks still remains even when they do know what they’re doing, it can be greatly reduced by volunteers taking the time to learn valuable skills.