Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just Driving By

I haven't written in a while, most of what's been happening has been "normal." Nothing to write home about.

I like to tell you things that happen out of dumb luck. Maybe it's fate, I don't know. You can decide.

In the early morning of Jan 23rd, we were awakened from sleep at around 3:30 am. We went to a call for "Difficult Respiration." This required that both the Paramedic Ambulance I was working on, and a Fire Engine, to respond to assist the patient. 

Sometimes I get asked why do you need the Fire Engine. Well, most Fire Departments across the country requires their Firefighters to be EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) trained. And on certain medical calls, 2 Paramedics are not enough personnel. For example, let's say you had a heart attack. Are 2 Paramedics enough? Well, it only takes 2 people to do CPR, right? Without going into more detail of why we need more people, think about this; If 2 Paramedics are doing CPR, who's going to drive you to the hospital? No one. You're gonna end up dying.

We get on scene and I go in first. I ask what's wrong, and the 35 yo woman tells me she has the flu. She is very hot with fever, and is coughing. As the Fire Engine crew comes in, I tell them she has the flu. Then I asked the woman if she could walk down her stairs to the gurney. She says that she's too weak.   One of the Firefighter rolls his eyes because it's flu season, and he's been as sick as this woman for over a week. But, he doesn't say a word, and doesn't complain. He waits patiently while we get the stair chair from the ambulance and he helps carry her down the stairs.

We get her in the gurney and load her into the ambulance. Both of us, the ambulance and Fire Engine, leave at the same time. We go to the hospital down the street, they head back to the Fire Station. The driver (Engineer) of the Fire Engine works at another station and is taking a different route back, one that is not usual. The route passes by a Psychiatric Board and Care, and no one purposely drives by it, because it may "remind" one of the residents that they could "get out of jail free" if they call 911 and go to the hospital. 

As they drive North on this Street, the Firefighter on the West side of the street notices what looks like a fire, one block West of where they were, near another Board and Care Apartment house. They were already wearing their Turnout pants, so they started putting on their Turnout coats They also started teasing the Firefighter, saying it was probably just a Christmas tree fire, and that it would be out by the time they got there. This time of year, people leave their dead and dried out Christmas trees outside by the curb, and with the light of a match, it can burn fast and be out in 2 -3 minutes.

They circle the block and see nothing on the East side front of the building. They turn right on the cross street, the building is on a corner, and see some light smoke in the rear of the building. They think it may be coming from the parking lot behind the building. As they get closer, it becomes more certain that the first floor, very rear apartment unit is on fire. 

They stop, and it happens to be right in front of the side entrance. The Captain gets on the radio to inform our dispatch of the fire, and to ask for a Second Alarm assignment. NO ONE called 911. The Engineer gets out and goes to hook up to the fire hydrant about 100 feet away. The Firefighters completely suit up, set up a hose line and start cutting the security door to get inside. The noise of the rotary saw may have waken up the residents, because some of them from the second floor started to open their windows to see what was going on. When the residents realized there was a fire, they started climbing out of their windows to jump.

As one Firefighter was cutting the gate open, the other yelled at everyone not to jump, and got a ladder out. He helped one person down, and by then, the hose was ready to go, and the gate was cut open.

The Engineer helped some of the others down, but his main duty was to the Firefighters who were going inside to fight the fire. The Engineer's job is to provide the Firefighters with water at the right pressure, so he had to be at the control panel.

The crew went in and quickly put out the bulk of the fire in the rear unit. The rear unit was next to the stairwell going to the second floor, and it too started to catch fire. So they started to advance their line up the stairwell.

In the meantime, it was chaos outside. More units came on scene to assist the first Fire Crew. One Fire crew was directed to put up ladders to help what seemed to be the whole apartment house wanting to jump out of their second floor apartment.

As the first crew put out the stairwell fire, they ended up on the second floor hallway which seemed to have lit up as soon as they got up there. The first crew then continued their fire fight and put out the second floor hallway fire. While the bulk of the fire was out, it was still hot and very smokey inside. 

At this time I had no idea what was going on, as I was at the hospital with the patient. As we were returning to our Fire Station, we were added as part of a third or maybe, fourth alarm.

While doing a search of the apartments, one Firefighter from the first crew came upon a man still in his bed, burned from heat and smoke inhalation. He took off his mask and put it over the man's face and others came to help him carry the man outside. 

Another ambulance took him away to the hospital while we were tending to another patient who was already outside and had jumped from her second floor apartment. She had smoke inhalation and a severely broken leg. 

After everything was over, we found out that the apartment was allegedly purposely set on fire by someone who allegedly had an argument with the man who was found in his bed.

The Fire Engine must have saw the initial set, and then fight the fire as the arsonist was lighting the rest of the building on fire. I bet the arsonist was incredulous, thinking, "How the heck did the Fire Dept get here so fast?"

Who knows how many people would have died or got injured at this fire if it had been burning for a while, AND THEN someone called 911. Who knows what would have happened during the extra time it would have taken for The Fire crew to wake up, go down to the Fire Engine, and then drive to the fire. This fire burned hot and fast due to it being arson and an accelerant was used. I'm sure there would have been more than one casualty. 

God looks out for the unfortunate amongst us.

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