A Day In The Life Of A Firefighter


IMG_1061As the bay doors lifted and the radio sounded, head gear was donned, switches were flipped and sirens begin to blare from the engine as we pulled away from the station.  In the passenger seat, while talking with dispatch and monitoring the call screen, Captain Montgomery is handing blue surgical gloves to the engineer; a third firefighter in the seat behind the captain prepares for the scene as well.  I am in the seat behind the driver, facing the front, I can see everything that is happening.

I am surprised how quiet it is within the cabin of the engine as the siren continues to wail.  Everything is padded.  There are helmets, and gloves, air tanks and masks within my reach.

Over the radio I hear cardiac arrest and my heart sinks.  But this is why I am here, to live in the life of a firefighter, if for only a few short hours.

It takes just a few minutes to arrive on scene.  The engine stops, sirens are turned off and the crew jump out.  The driver (engineer) releases my door as he passes.  I grab my camera bag and follow their lead.  We head over to the waver who is anxiously waiting to show us where the patient is.

We are on a construction sight, it’s overcast and cold.  The wind is blowing.  I feel guilty because I am cold.

“follow me” states the captain.

IMG_1026We are on rocky ground passing through a chain link fence, a steam roller is flattening the driveway of the construction zone.  There is an urgency in the air.  The EMT’s carried the patient to a more stable ground, laying him down swiftly but gently, time is critical and they work fast.

“You can’t be here without a hard hat ma’am” the foreman on the job told me.  I left the scene and went back to the other side of the fence.  My guys notice.  They were aware of everything around them.

“She’s with us” the captain tells him as he comes to get me.  I stand next to him, just a few feet away from the patient.

I could hear more sirens in the distance, I knew they were coming here.  A large red emergency bag lays open on the ground containing supplies for anything they may need.  CPR is started immediately.  I am trying to take all of this in, to remember everything and before too much time has passed there are 4 policemen and 8 firefighters and ambulance crew working to pull this man out of his arrest.

As CPR is being performed, I watch as his clothes are cut away; noticing how difficult it was cutting through the many layer’s he had on.  A machine is brought out, wires are connected to his exposed chest and legs, his vitals monitored, a pulse oximeter is attached to his finger.

Empty sterile needle packages lay on the ground in a pile.  He is surrounded by medical technicians.  An IV is put directly into the patients leg bone in order to get the solution into his marrow as quickly as possible, the EMT is literally squeezing the bag; pushing the fluid in.

IMG_1011Twenty, 19, 18…  an EMT counts down from his stop watch to let the paramedics know it is nearly time to switch out, relieving the other from his CPR duties, rotating every two minutes.  Stoping just long enough to check for a pulse, or to shock the patient.

“We are at 10 minutes now” an EMT calls out…notifying the crew how long they have been on scene.

Three, two, one… the EMT performing chest compressions backs up and another steps in.  Everyone is working together, calling out numbers, checking vitals, writing the report of what is happening, talking with the hospital.  A second IV is placed in the patients arm; the EMT wants to hang the bag on the chain link fence freeing his hands but he can’t attach it fast enough.  My instinct was to move in to help, to offer to hold the bag.  I wanted to do something!  They are monitoring the amount of fluids going into his body.

“clear” he is shocked a third time.

CPR is not gentle.  The patient’s ribs and belly are thrust many inches into the air with each compression.  A breathing tube and bag are being used, an EMT rhythmically squeezes the bag, supplying air.

Ambulance crew bring in an orange back board and set it next to me on the ground, next the gurney comes in.  I notice the details and how high tech it is.  To me, it seems like comfort, as if everything will be okay now.

I want to take photographs of the red bag spread open on the ground, of the hand that is holding the IV bag, of the captain writing the report, of the police officers talking with the foreman, of the pile of discarded sterile packaging that held the needles, of his tool belt laying in the ditch; forgotten in this chaotic race to save his life, of the men I am already proud of.

Out of respect for the man laying on the ground while these strangers work so hard to save his life, my camera remained in my bag.

Captain Montgomery steps closer to me, away from the patient who lay just a few feet beyond and explains what is happening.

IMG_1014I notice the patient’s boot’s, his hand’s and his eye’s.  His co-worker’s timidly trying to see how their friend is, concern written on their faces.  I cant tell you exactly how long we were on the scene, it seems both, just a few moments and yet a life time.

After conferring with the hospital, “time” is called.

The patient is respectfully covered with a blue blanket and the area is silently picked up.  Their faces are somber, there is grief in the air.

One by one, people and vehicles begin to leave the scene.  It becomes very quit once the ladder truck pulls away.  I hadn’t noticed how loud it was until it had gone.  The police officers stay behind in order to contact the family and make arrangements with the funeral home.

After meeting and speaking with the fire chief for a few moments, the engineer and I got back into the engine.  We are at a dead end street, the roads are very tight, with cars lining each side.  The captain, standing on the street helps direct the engineer to turn the rig around.   Once we are turned around, the crew returns to their designated seats, buckled up we begin our trip back to the station.  Taking a detour to a steel company to help them open a door, stopping at the city lot for fuel before finally pulling into the open bay doors of the station.

To put it gently, it was a rough morning.  The guys felt bad that it was my first time out and we had such a hard call to go to.  I wondered how they coped with this, with tough calls.  I can only imagine they get much harder than this…

“If it is a particularly bad call, sometimes they will bring a counselor in and we sit with them, but it doesn’t really help.  We have each other, we were there at the scene together and we talk about it.  If I notice one of my men is having a really hard time, I will send him home.  We look out for each other.”  Captain Tony Biagi

IMG_1071Firefighters have always intrigued me, especially since our nations tragedy of September 11th.  I wanted to know what it is like to be that person who can run towards a burning building when others are running in the opposite direction. It had to take a very special person who is willing to risk their own life to save another’s.

A friend, who is also a firefighter told me about the ride-along program with Eugene Fire and EMS.  I had to complete an application and pass a background check.  Once I was cleared, I received a letter in the mail with a date and time, which station to report to and who to contact.

My “shift” started at 9 a.m..  I had barely met Captain Mike Montgomery, Captain Tony Biagi and Engineer Bill Bennett when the alarm for the call above sounded at approximately 9:15 a.m….

Join me next week as my story from Whitaker Station 2 continues.

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