What do you think happens at a firehouse? Guys just kicking back, barbecuing, watching sports? Just hanging out until the next call?
Well, for the most part, you’d be wrong. At least in Harrisonburg they have quite the to-do list each day which includes everything from working out, cleaning the firehouse, up-keeping equipment, training, testing, and so much more. I realized when I showed up for my ride-along that I wasn’t really sure what to do because everyone had their tasks. So, I was the “lazy” one and just hung out and followed them around a bit.
Here, and many other fire departments have 24 hour shifts. They don’t have to be awake for 24 hours, but they do have to be available. So, if they go to bed at 11pm, they may be woken up at midnight and they will go and stay for however long it takes. But in the event of a real fire that lasts a while, there are systems in place to be sure a firefighter does not get fatigued. They will switch who goes in the building to keep everyone safe! If you see the trucks riding around town without their lights/sirens on, they may be going to a training, or getting something to eat. As I mentioned, they have to be on call, so if they are eating dinner and they get called out, off they go!
I got the grand tour of the building and asked quite a lot of questions about new trucks/old trucks/new people. They have a large pole in their building. I didn’t go down it because, well, it was taller than I expected and didn’t feel up to it at the time. Maybe next time! I picked a shift that had a family friend and someone I knew from work, and I got to meet someone new too.
During our dinner a lady came in to get a child’s seat installed. This is something that I didn’t realize fire departments did until I got involved and learned more about it. It was right in the middle of dinner, but up we went and the guys did their thing. Since one of the guys made dinner (they usually go out, so this was kind of nice!) we all sat around the table just talking. And I had made cupcakes which they seemed to enjoy!
It wasn’t until the very end of my “shift” that we got a call which happened in a round-about way. But a woman up the street smelled gas and called 911. I hopped in the back of the truck with one of the guys and watch him get his gear on while we drove about 3 blocks. Two guys went in with a monitor and determined there was no gas. But they determined they needed more smoke detectors, so they handled that as well. On the way back we got gas, and then I headed home.
They can have uneventful days (which is really better for everyone involved) and they can have insane days. One day not too long ago, all the engines were across the street from my work, then they were called to CVS, then they were called to the north of town. This was in the span of about 2 hours. Luckily I don’t think any of those events were real fires, but that’s happened too. One fire is put out then a couple engines go into service only to be called two miles away for another.
Here’s a review on what a firefighter might do during their 24 hour shift: Physical fire fighting training at the training grounds, active shooter training with the rescue squad and police, classroom training, test taking, creating building plans, installing child car seats, going to special educational events to interact with the public, washing fire trucks, testing equipment, daily chores, making lunch, and possibly saving your life, oh and hopefully sleep at some point. I know I didn’t catch every possibility there…and I know I don’t know everything about what they do.
Ultimately, this little series of an inside look of public servants is to show you that they are here for you. They do what so many are scared (and rightfully so) to do. They keep you safe. They wouldn’t hesitate to help you if they weren’t on duty and saw you in trouble. So, show respect. These people are heroes and they are regular people too. Please treat them that way. Oh, and move to the right when you see emergency vehicles coming!!