Inside the mind of a Langley firefighter
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. – 633d Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department firefighters approach dangerous situations that most people would flee from. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Staff Sgt. Barry Loo)
Posted 3/15/2010 Updated 3/15/2010
by Senior Airman Sylvia Olson
633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/15/2010 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- When an emergency call is received at the 633d Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department, firefighters drop whatever they are doing to gear up physically and mentally, develop a plan of action, and make their way to the incident quickly.
Staff Sgt. Luke Rogan, 633d CES Fire Protection craftsman, Senior Airman Carlos Ruffin, 633d CES Fire Protection journeyman, and Senior Airman Kyle Rollins, 633d CES Vehicle Operator were on shift when a call for a small kitchen fire at Bay View Towers came in. The firemen donned their bunker gear, consisting of pants, boots and coat, and hopped into their vehicle.
"The moment we receive a call, we start thinking about what we need to do," said Rogan. "We kick into a different mindset."
The 633d CES Fire Department dispatched their vehicle with a ladder truck and first run engine. Buildings higher than three stories require the ladder truck when there is a call of smoke showing, Rogan said. The first run engine provides the main fire-fighting capability.
Details of smoke coming from a room on the fifth floor, and no contact with room occupants emerged by radio. With the update, Rogan adjusted his orders to the crew to include a whole floor hazards and occupant search.
The three firemen unanimously agreed that communication is vital. They constantly receive updated incident information from the fire department's alarm room. Their plans are fluid, evolving with updates, Rollins said.
Safety is also important. Before driving up to an incident site, drivers must scan for a safe driving lane to the scene, Rogan said. Only after ensuring the area was clear of people, victims and hazards, they parked their truck far enough from the building that if it collapsed, the vehicle would not be caught underneath.
The fire department is given 10 miles per hour posted limit allowance, so Rollins drove between 5 to 15 mph over the posted limit. The rescue team arrived on scene in four minutes and two seconds.
Before going inside the building, the firefighters put on their Mine Safety Appliance air packs, structural fire fighting gloves, MSA "fire hawk" masks, nomex hoods and helmets.
"Until we are on scene, we don't know what to expect, so we are fully geared up," Rogan said.
The experienced firefighters calmly walked inside and took the elevator to the fifth floor. Following protocol, they performed buddy checks to identify discrepancies like visible skin, unsnapped buttons, and unsealed seams and raised helmet visors.
"Buddy checks are important for safety, but also give us confidence, knowing we have each other's back and are ready to do the job," Rogan said.
Arriving on scene, Rogan admits he was a little worried when the room's key card would not work, but set his worries aside to focus on an alternative step. He notified command the door had to be forced open.
Once they received approval from command, they chose an axe as the easiest and cheapest way to break the door open, carefully avoiding the lock. They evaluated risks of opening the door, taking into account the possibility of a back draft, and the dangers of adding oxygen to the heated room.
They determined the room was safe to enter, and Rollins successfully broke open the door with a few strong hits. Ruffins grabbed a fire extinguisher, and they entered the smoke-filled room.
A firefighter's priorities are, people, property and environment. Since their first priority was to search for occupants, they searched the bedrooms, the closets and under the beds.
"We noticed children's toys, so we looked in hidden spots where a child could hide," said Rogan. "We take all details into consideration while searching. Our ability to think on our feet and adapt to new circumstances is crucial to our success as firefighters."
To their relief, the search turned up no occupants. Ruffins found the source of the smoke: a pot of soup that had been left on a stove set on high. He immediately turned off the stove, and the crew opened windows to ventilate the apartment.
Rogan notified command there were no occupants or fire. They calculated safety hazards at the scene, and assessed environmental details. Flammable items surrounded the stove area; it was fortunate nothing caught on fire, Rogan said.
The firemen brought in exhaust fans and smoke ejectors to clear the smoke, and took off their gear. They salvaged, overhauled and cleaned up the mess they made from breaking open the door.
"When the call first came in, our mindset became mission-oriented," Ruffins said. "Once we realized there were no occupants or fire, our alertness decreased. Our thoughts went from being ready to save people and fight a fire, to calmly salvaging property."
They also checked other rooms on the floor for smoke, and relocated occupants of rooms affected by smoke.
The firemen did not panic because they have worked and trained together and trust each other completely, Rogan said. They react differently to calls based on the circumstances of the emergency. In this case, the situation was easily contained and assessed.
"There is no better job in the world," Ruffin said. "All of us are dedicated to what we do because we love it."