After my recent transfer I experienced what I can only describe as a slight case of burnout. The long commute, the endless runs, long hours, poor sleeping habits and diet, stress and the ever-increasing time committment to the kids as they grow up all finally started to catch up to me. There never seemed to be enough time in the day and I really started to feel poorly. I felt myself starting to crash. I decided I needed a break to get my self together and just catch up on some badly needed sleep.
For the last month I have done as little as possible. I stopped working overtime and focused on feeling better. Eating and sleeping as normally as possible and relaxing some. It worked to a large degree. I caught up on my sleep and now feel better. So when I had the opportunity to work overtime Friday night I was ready. No one told me it was going to be a night of the Zombie Apocalypse. At least it seemed that way.
The area I work in now is nearly all residential and light commercial (retail strip malls) with some industrial areas over toward the river. Many of the residents are lower-income and in some areas many are existing at the poverty level. Crime is an everyday part of life in this local especially drugs and prostitution. Violence is common. Many people are strung out on drugs and describing them as “Zombies” is a pretty accurate description. Drugs will do that to you.
So as I started my second shift Friday night I knew there was the potential for a night of the Zombies. I was right. We answered 11 calls between 6pm and about 1 AM. I was caught off guard at the sheer number of calls due to violence. From stabbings to assaults to overdoses it was insane. We routinely run out of ambulances on nights like this and this night was no exception. After 1am things seemed to quiet down but our medic unit turned in 16 runs by the end of their shift. 26 runs in 14 hours for our station. That’s busy.
Saturday night was a different story. Back in the ladder (where I belong) we were called out to fight two house fires. The first one (above) we were assigned as the RIT (Rapid Intervention Team). Our job was to stand by in case any firefighters got trapped, then to rescue them. Thankfully we were not needed and were recalled shortly after our arrival.
Now the problem is it was about 1:30 am. It takes a while to settle down after a call like that. Since I knew I couldn’t sleep I decided to watch some TV until I could. Lucky for me sleep never came. At about 3:45 am we were called out again for another house fire. This time we were first in with our engine. As we closed in on the address I could see a column of thick black smoke against the night sky. The house above was burning from front to rear when we arrived.
There is a certain intensity about being the first to arrive at the scene of a fire like this. At once it is terrifyingly dangerous. But before you have time to worry about anything you begin thinking about anyone who could still be inside. At this time of the morning that’s highly likely. So we went to work as fast as possible. The engine did a truly awesome job knocking down the fire on the first floor. I came in behind them after making sure the house had ladders up and my crew was in the right places.
At one point I looked back out the front door and could see the reflection of the house in the windows of the house directly across the street. The front bedroom six feet above us had flashed over and now fire was blowing out about fifteen feet from all three front windows. The radiant heat had started to impinge of the houses on either side. We were at the point where we had to stop the fire before it spread. If we lost containment we could be playing catch up all the way down the street.
A little more than a year ago Engine 14 would have been on scene quickly. Unfortunately the Nutter administration closed Engine 14 down and they are sorely missed. Now Engine 70 was coming in their place. It’s a much longer run for Engine 70 and we found ourselves desperately fighting our way to the second floor as the water began to run out. We needed a second line badly.
There was no fire hydrant at the end of the street behind us so the driver of engine 7 had to stretch 11 lengths of hose forward up the street. No easy task since hose is normally pulled directly from the back of the truck. Eventually Engine 70 arrived with their line and Engine 7’s driver pulled off a miracal by getting connected to the hydrant. By the time we left this fireground the sun was coming up and the damage was more apparent. The house was devastated, but those on either side were saved. No one was hurt as the occupants fled before our arrival.
Philadelphia is a city of row houses. Thousands of them occupied by families of everyday people who are just trying to make it. They need fire protection. The current administration doesn’t understand that. A fire on a street like this does more than just destroy one family’s hopes and dreams. The burned out house immediately becomes a cancer for the rest of the block. It will be a boarded up eye sore that will destroy property values and eventually become a haven for drugs and crime.
I suppose there is no way I will ever be able to make the bureaucrats and politicians in City Hall feel what I feel as I stood on those stairs, with seven other guys looking back over my shoulder hoping to see that next crew coming in the door to back us up and only seeing fire. If I have to explain that… they will never understand.