April 16, 2012 - Two weeks without a call. Can you believe it? For some volunteer firefighters, that may be typical (not mentioning any names . . . Earl) but for the department I’m on, that’s unusual. Especially compared with how busy we were in March.
By Jennifer Grigg
For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the hall every day working at my new job as municipal law-enforcement officer, under the direction of the fire chief. I admit, I was excited about the fact that sooner or later, a call would come in while I was at the hall, and I wouldn’t have to go through the longer-than-most drive just to get to the hall, never mind the call. And hey, who doesn’t want the chance to drive the trucks?
So the two weeks passed totally uneventfully. I even checked my pager once or twice, just to make sure the thing was turned on. Kind of like when someone is waiting for a phone call, and picking up the receiver just to make sure there’s a dial tone, at least that’s what they do on TV anyway.
Yesterday was a different story, and of course, I was at home, not at work. Have you ever gotten the feeling that you were going to get a call? Call it ESP, intuition, or just a gut feeling, but sometimes, you just know. And yesterday, I had the feeling – a knowing, if you will – that we were going to get a call later in the day. Turned out I was right. The pager went off shortly before 5 p.m. for an ATV accident and I was in the Jeep and on my way before I knew it.
The drive to the hall was probably one of the most nerve wracking I’ve had yet. It seemed that everyone on Highway 12 was doing exactly the speed limit, (which is fine, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a speed demon; I don’t even like to pass . . . LOL) and, I even managed to get the red light at the brand new lights in Waubaushene. Ugh.
After the first set of tones went out, it seemed like forever before I heard anything else. Finally, a fellow firefighter manned the hall . . . with one . . . no one else had shown up. I’d remembered to turn on the Bluetooth thingy for my cell phone, but the problem with that was that I still had to look at my cell phone to dial the number, which I gather you’re not really supposed to do because how does that differ from texting, which we all know is against the law? (I’m sure there’s some voice-activated thing on my phone, it is a Blackberry, after all, but I’ve never used it. Note to self . . .)
So, I couldn’t call buddy to tell him that I was on my way and to throw my gear on the truck. There’s nothing like being at the hall by yourself, with no one else showing up, knowing someone is in a potentially life-threatening situation and needs your help. When I heard our dispatch radio ask him if he’d like another station toned out, I was about seven minutes from the hall, and had no way to tell him that I was coming to give him a hand.
The second set of tones went out for our station and the second station. Not long after, the second hall was manned with three. (They were about as far from the call as I was at this point.) The firefighter from my hall had no choice but to respond by himself. He knew that three were coming from the other hall to help, but he would still be the first one on scene, and not sure just what he was in for. How’s that for a nerve-wracking experience?
Turns out that both ambulance and police were on scene prior to the firefighter’s arrival, so he wasn’t alone, and the paramedics were already packaging the patient. I caught up to the truck from the other hall so we’d arrived at the same time. Fortunately for our lone firefighter, this wasn’t a case of needing to transport anyone out of the bush, which is what I feared it might be. We were lucky – this time.
That’s the reality of being on a volunteer fire department though. You never know who is going to show up, and even though you can always get another hall rolling for more manpower, there’s still that moment when you realize that you may very well be on your own.
Which is one of the reasons that we train, train, train. To be prepared, to expect the unexpected, and to keep your cool when most people wouldn’t. Good job, Jimmy B!
Jennifer Mabee is a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario. She began her fire career with the Township of Georgian Bay in 1997 and became the department's fire prevention officer in 2000 and a captain in 2003. She was a fire inspector with the City of Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services before taking time off to focus on family, and is excited to be back at it. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.