Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Things Seen While Working in the ‘Hood

Most of you probably know that I am a firefighter. You may also know that I spend a lot of my shifts working in a rough section of Columbus at station 15. The following is a little taste of my most recent day at work.

It was about 90° outside. First thing in the morning we responded to a routine medic run which was the typical start to a day at 15s. Then, at noon-ish, we had a report of a house fire. Wearing all of our gear in this sweltering heat is like wearing a furnace. Sure, the fire is hot anyway, but in reality the actual firefight only lasts a few minutes. That's when the long task of overhaul (searching and extinguishing hot spots) begins.

Did I mention it was 90°?

I was the lieutenant on ladder 15 for the morning and we were the first ladder on the scene of the fire. The house was a vacant, one-story, brick house where kids had been seen hanging out as of late. There are tons of these vacant houses throughout the district, and the city, for that matter. Anyhow, for fun I suppose, the teenagers decided to set the house on fire. It was a pretty routine fire and we put it out rather quickly.

As part of the ladder company on this particular fire, our duties were to cut the bars off of the windows in case a firefighter needed a quick escape, help the interior crew locate the fire and get to it within the walls, and set up lights and fans to help improve the interior conditions. It was also our job to find anyone that might be trapped, but being a small vacant house, that was accomplished right away. After an hour or so of cleaning up, we headed back to the station.

If you had thrown me into a swimming pool, I would have probably been dryer than I was inside my gear when I got back to the station.

For the rest of the afternoon I worked with the engine crew, where we proceeded to chase open hydrants for most of the day. In the poorer neighborhoods during the summer, it is common for the residents to open the fire hydrants to keep cool. They use pipe wrenches and sometimes stolen fire hydrant wrenches among other more clever ideas. For example, one of those orange milk crates can open a hydrant if used in the right way. The kids in the neighborhood play in the water spray in the middle of the street. I have even shut off hydrants in the past at busy intersections where the kids would wait for red lights before running out into the street to play in the hydrant spray. Then, when the traffic light turned green again, they would go back to the sidewalk and wait. As you can imagine, this is dangerous on all sorts of levels. Maybe the most frustrating part about closing hydrants for the entire day is that parents are often with the kids and are just as disrespectful.

Unfortunately, it is our job to shut off the hydrants, so that makes us the enemy in their eyes. On the day before my shift, someone even threw a rock at Engine 15 as it pulled away from a hydrant they’d just shut off. Thankfully, the rock didn’t hit any of my buddies on the rig. Dangerous.

Other times, while we are shutting off hydrants, kids (and sometimes adults) kick the water at us or spray us with squirt guns. And they aren't doing it in playful ways, either. Most of the time the parents sit on the porch and laugh while we explain why the hydrants have to be shut down. It's unbelievable.

You have to understand that we don't want to take away the kids’ fun; it's just that open hydrants can be very dangerous for them and for us. Besides the traffic danger, the extreme pressure from the hydrants can violently knock the smaller kids to the street. For the fire department, the danger goes even deeper. If a person opens a hydrant in one neighborhood and we have to fight a fire on the next street over, the illegally open hydrant can take valuable water away from our attack on a working fire and hinder our efforts to extinguish the fire by drastically reducing the pressure from our hose lines. That turns into a danger for the civilians and firefighters inside the burning house.

Let's get back to the other day. While shutting off the same hydrant for the third time in four hours, we saw one of the kids running away with a pipe wrench. When we returned to shut the hydrant off for the fourth time, this same 12- or 13-year-old boy gave us the middle finger and repeatedly shouted for us to “f” off, although he wasn't polite enough to abbreviate the "f" part. All the while several adults watched from the porches and laughed about it.

We could call the police (which we do quite often), but they rarely do much about the hydrants. I mean, what could they really do? Threaten to arrest everyone in every neighborhood? And charge them with what? We do have a process in place in which the water department will come out and lock the problem hydrant with a device that only we can open, but that just kicks the can down the road or, more specifically, to the next hydrant. It would be great if the water department would lock all of the hydrants, but apparently that isn't cost effective. So, instead of eliminating the problem, we play this game of scooping buckets of water out of a boat with a huge hole in it.
That's about enough on the subject of hydrants. I just thought you might be interested in seeing what goes on in neighborhoods throughout the country in periods of hot weather.

Totally off the hydrant subject, but something new I learned:

On the way back from our last hydrant shut-off of the day, I saw a sign on a telephone pole that I thought was strange and worth adding here. The sign said, "We buy diabetic test strips" and it had a phone number along the bottom. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why any company would buy someone's presumably used test strips. Do you have any idea why someone would put up a sign like that? Well, I asked engine 15s’ driver and he gave me the answer. It turns out they aren't buying used test strips, but new ones. Why is that, you may ask. It's actually pretty clever. Not all people who get their test strips for free from Medicare use them as often as they are supposed to use them. Instead, they can sell them to this company. The company turns around and sells the test strips at a profit to people without Medicare or insurance. Maybe my mind doesn't work in that way, but I've never considered a scheme like that in my life.

That was just another day in the ‘hood. I'll go home, have a couple days off, and then start over again. Hopefully, it's not 90°. And if it is 90, hopefully I won't get hit by a rock.


  1. Isn't it truly amazing and interesting knowing that firefighters don't just sit around waiting for a fire alarm. Also, It would be extremely hard keeping control while being disrespected by children as well as adults while kindly explaining the reason behind the need to keep the hydrants working.
    To all firefighter, thanks :)
    Interesting info.

  2. I happen to know a lot and that engine driver sounds like a pretty smart guy. He's probably extremely good looking, too.