Thursday, March 15, 2012
Working in the Inner City
Regular followers of this blog probably already know that I am a lieutenant for a large central Ohio fire department and I have been working mostly in the inner city for the last year. For firefighters, working in the inner city also means living in the inner city for 24 hours out of every 72. It is almost like a second home. We sleep there, eat there, and take emergency calls there.
On nice days we leave our bay doors open and a lot of times we sit out on the ramp (we call it ramping), but it is basically just a way for us to be a part of the neighborhood. Doing this makes us approachable for people needing help or people simply wanting to chat. With this blog I wanted to give you a little glimpse into working in that kind of an area. Let me preface this by saying there is a lot of good that happens around there, but this blog will mostly focus on the bad. Hey, I'm trying to paint a specific picture here. Here are just a few of the interesting things that you may not have imagined could happen.
Sometimes the neighborhood is very noisy and very violent. If you have ever heard of the gang the Bloods, then you'll understand how violent when I say there is Blood turf only a few blocks away from our station.
Nightly, police helicopters fly overhead so often that we don't even bother looking up at them anymore. They are just there, like airplanes for someone living near an airport. At least once a month I am approached at my vehicle as I am either getting ready to leave work or getting ready to start my shift. The person who approaches me usually asks for money. Typically, the story is that the person is out of gas and needs a few bucks to get to wherever they need to go, but sometimes the story is a little more clever.
On a typical New Year's Eve, the gunfire at midnight sounds literally like a war zone. Celebratory automatic gunfire explodes from around the station and continues for quite some time. If you're quiet enough you can hear some of the bullets land on the roof as they make their way back to earth. You know, gravity and all. The other medics tell me they have responded to calls where bullets have come back down and struck people in the tops of the heads or shoulders, though I haven't been on any of those calls yet.
Our parking lot is surrounded by an 8 or 10 foot chain-link fence topped with barbwire that we lock every night. Even doing that, there has been times where the fence has been cut and firefighters with full tanks of gas on the night before find themselves stopping at the gas station on the way home.
With that said, let's get to last night. I was on the engine. My driver was another medic and is a friend of mine. Here's a quick side note about him: During his first week on company out of the academy (13 or so years ago), he responded to a fire. As he knelt on the front porch to put on the facepiece of his SCBA (Self-contained breathing apparatus or air tank) he heard a loud pop and felt pain in his knee. He knew right away what had happened and he shouted, "I've been shot." Turns out he was right. The fire had heated ammunition within the house to the point that it went off and my friend successfully tried to catch one of the bullets with his knee. Yeah, ouch. Not a great way to start a career.
Anyway, back to last night. As a couple of us walked into the apparatus bay for who knows what reason, we heard multiple distinct, rapid-fire gunshots somewhere right outside the station. We immediately shut the bay doors and waited for the police and what was sure to be a run. Within a minute, our tones went off and we were dispatched to a street one block west of the station on an auto accident. Before we reached the truck, the dispatcher called on the phone and told us not to respond until the police arrived on the scene because the accident was from a shooting. We waited about 30 seconds until the police had everything secured and then we hurried to the scene. Because of the nature of my job and the sensitivity over talking about details, whether those details concern an on-going investigation or HIPPA laws for patients, I'm not going to get into what we found. I will say that we did find a person who had been shot and we did what we do to help him. The last I heard, he was in stable condition at the ER.
Here is the news report if you want to know more along with some video of the aftermath.
So, that was the start of my night. The amazing thing about that call is that it isn't something entirely unusual. I've only been spending most of my shifts at this station for a year now, but the other firefighters tell me this kind of thing happens quite often. The night didn't get much better, although none of the other calls were much worth mentioning here. Let's just say we were busy. In 24 hours, Engine 15 responded to 18 calls. That's busy.