Firefighter’s Face

I attended a training session in Houghton a while back. It was designed for fire chiefs or their designated assistants to learn to use the SMOKE system, which keeps track of the training courses the firefighters have taken. In order to qualify as a fire fighter, a lot of coursework is required, including the passing of written and practical tests.

It is good for me to attend sessions like this one, because I am in a room with folks that have problems and challenges similar to mine as chief of a small rural fire department. I knew a significant number of them too, and it was good to reestablish relationships. This room was full of people with radios and pagers.

Throughout the course of the evening, radios and pagers were going off. Most of these were someone else’s pages. But what was interesting to me, was how the room immediately got quiet when a pager went off. If you’ve ever been in a room full of talking people and tried to get their attention, you know how difficult that can be. In this room, when a pager went off, the effect was instantaneous. For most of us, it became clear after a few seconds that this page was not intended for us, we quickly resumed whatever we were doing as if nothing had happened. I did observe a couple of times that evening, however, the look on the face of the person when the page was intended for them; their firefighter’s face.

It is hard to describe this phenomenon, and I only became aware of it myself at that meeting, but it is unmistakable. If I was looking in a mirror when my pager went off, I’m sure I’d see it on myself too. The information received from the 911 dispatcher during a page is crucial for getting organized for whatever the run is. How serious is it? Where is it located? What resources are needed? How many people are on vacation? The list is long and complicated, but while the words are flowing out the pager’s speaker, the firefighter’s ears are tuned in and the brain is churning in “get organized” mode.

As they were striding out the door, these guys had a look on their faces that said they were already thinking several steps ahead. They had a plan, and were moving in the direction of making that plan happen. If you’re wondering how you can help these folks (most of whom are volunteers) do their jobs, I have a few tips.

1) When you see an emergency vehicle coming towards you (flashing red light,) give it some space.

2) If you come upon an emergency scene (lots of flashing red lights), don’t gawk. Curious well-meaning people cause a lot of problems at emergency scenes. The best thing you can do to help is to keep your eyes forward, slow down, pay attention to people at the scene directing traffic, and move through as quickly and safely as possible.

3) Consider supporting your local fire department. Some ideas are to support their fundraisers by buying raffle tickets, attending pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, buying t-shirts, or perhaps just giving a donation. Firefighting equipment is expensive and wears out, and discretionary money is always appreciated.

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