I hate first day work. That’s what we call our first shift of the week, followed by second day work, first night work and… if you said second night work you get an “F”. We call that last night work. These are industry terms, not easily understood outside the job. They are designed to confuse outsiders, government investigators and our own High Command. Everyone hates first day work because it’s always busier than a spandex booth at Pridefest. (Oh relax). Today proved to be no different.
We spent most of the day on the road but responded to only one actual call. More on that in a minute. We started the day by helping change out our ambulance that went down with mechanical problems. It’s a wonder how we can keep any of them on the street due to their near constant usage. It’s pretty uncommon for our medics to be in the station for any length of time. I honestly don’t know how they do it. Later in the shift we had to go across town and pick up our front line truck that was having radio headsets installed. Eight years ago (or there about) we were awarded them in one of our contracts (because of so many of our guys having their hearing destroyed). But since the city decided to apply for grant money to pay for them it took about eight years give or take. I was glad to get rid of the eighteen year old reserve truck we were using and get our ten-year old truck back. It’s the little things that count.
Because off the devastating cut backs to the fire department, we are stretched to the breaking point. THREE times today my company was called to cover up at other stations. That is a record. In 19 years on the job I have never been sent on three different cover-ups in one shift. I have never heard of another company doing so either. Since we are spread so thinly across the city, every time there is a half way serious fire or incident, companies have to be immediately shifted to other areas to fill in the gaps. We are now traveling many miles to other stations while our own local loses its coverage. It was about four o’clock before I got back to my desk.
One of the key aspects of urban firefighting is response time. The most important part of our job is getting to the fire and getting a (hose) line in service as quickly as possible. This keeps little fires from becoming big fires. Unfortunately our companies now find themselves in completely unfamiliar locals more often and travelling much longer distances. This delays even further an already degraded response. Last week we had to cover a station in WEST Philly (from Kensington). This is a recipe for disaster. Today that meal was served up fresh again.
Responding to a working fire, Engine 71 was crossing Roosevelt Blvd. at Harbison ave. Roosevelt Blvd. (US 1) is an eight lane highway that doubles as an urban race track. As they made it across seven lanes, their luck ran out. A northbound mini-van broadsided them, square amid-ship. The impact crushed the fire truck and destroyed the front end of the van. The driver of the van admitted that he was distracted while driving. He was lost on the way to his next delivery and was looking at some directions. He failed to notice the other stopped cars or the fire engine with lights and sirens crossing in front of him. The impact was tremendous scattering debris all over the road. Luckily everyone involved will live with relatively minor injuries. The driver of the van will most likely sue the city and get paid, because… just because.
What the local media won’t tell you is that Engine 71 was only going to this fire because Engine 38 has been closed. That’s the same Engine 38 I wrote about previously that had their station demolished to make way for a new on ramp for I-95. While they wait for their station to be re-built, Engine 38 has been disbanded. So other companies have to take up the slack. What is even more scandalous is that even without Engine 38, Engine 71 STILL would most likely not have gone to this fire if Engine 14 were still around. But, you guessed it: Engine 14 was closed by the Nutter administration as well. So now Engine 71 is forced to cross the Boulevard to get to a working fire they never should have had to go to in the first place.
The implicit lesson here is that you can’t just close fire companies arbitrarily after years of ingrained response patterns and not run into trouble. You have to re-arrange the whole enchilada. Stations need to be moved and not en-masse. This is a process that needs to play out over time not some knee-jerk reaction to poor fiscal discipline. This is the second wreck we have had in the last two weeks. Lucky people weren’t killed.
We were called to this scene. I heard the Captain (a VERY good guy) come over the radio saying they were involved in an accident. Even in a state of semi-shock he was calm and professional, requesting assistance and tending to the injured car driver. I was listening to the fire because there was a chance we would be going but it was just outside our limit. Instead we responded the two miles or so to the accident scene. It was sobering to say the least. The entire run I was hyper vigiliant, looking for the car with the driver mindlessly gabbing into a cell phone that’s going to take me, my truck and my crew out. Talk about stress. But my stress is nothing compared to what the Captain of Engine 71 will have to go through.
Now a good officer will have to endure months of anxiety and aggravation as he awaits his fate from the department. He will undoubtedly second guess himself over and over as to how he could have prevented some ignorant, distracted and irresponsible driver from nearly killing himself and his crew. Talk about stress.