I recently had the opportunity to ride along with, and observe, the crew of the local fire department here. As an “observer”, let me tell you what I observed.
Inside the station, between calls, there is a relaxed atmosphere. The guys do whatever it is they do or need to do (after the morning duties of apparatus & equipment checks and clean ups are complete).
Unlike you might see portrayed in some movies (mostly older ones) there is no rushing, no dropping what you’re doing and racing to the trucks when the alarm goes off. Instead, there is a focused direction of movement to the trucks. (Incidentally, the old klaxons that had the potential for causing you to jump and the adrenaline to start pumping just from the sound have been replaced with tones and, more recently, the addition of visual aids to go with the tones). Even for myself, being of short stature and not in the best of shape, I was able to get on the engine for each and every call without difficulty and without feeling like I had to rush to keep up (of course I also had no gear, but then none of the calls required full PPE & gear).
Sitting in the engine, in the rear most forward facing seat, here’s the view you would see inside the cab. Sitting up front was the engineer, who drives. Next to him, riding shot gun, was the captain who had a computer mounted in front of him. As we were driving, he would look at the map on the computer and call out the directions. In addition, he would call out “clear” when making left turns or crossing streets. Two firefighters sat jump-seat, one behind the Engineer and one behind the captain. One was EMT trained, the other Paramedic.
On the rescue you would have seen 2 firefighters at least one a paramedic and the other, at minimum, an EMT. On all medical calls and MVAs you will likely see both engine and rescue being toned out.
Originally after getting to the station, learning where my assigned seat would be on both the engine & rescue, and doing a “dry run” of sorts climbing up into the engine, I had thought to ride with rescue since it was lower to the ground. The biggest problem for me is that my seat on rescue would have been rear facing, which would present its own set of difficulties. As it turned out, I ended up riding engine for each call. Just ended up being easier – between jumping on the engine, not knowing if rescue was also going (not toned out at first) and jumping on the engine because rescue wasn’t “in house” at the time. I just got in the habit of jumping into my assigned seat on the engine, belting up, and putting my headphones on so I could hear and talk to the rest of the crew. There was also an observer vest for me to wear. I did make the mistake (one time) of putting on the vest, buckling up, and then zipping up the vest – as you can imagine, that didn’t work so well.
I can’t really tell you anything about the calls themselves due to policies and patient/victim confidentiality (you understand) but I can say that a good number of the calls were medical in nature, which would probably explain why all the firefighters are cross-trained as EMT at the minimum. In fact there was a total of 3 Paramedics in the crew I rode with.
Many many years ago I had done several ride alongs on the ambulance (working towards my EMT) and, more recently, I got to ride with two police departments… Now I can cross the fire department off my list ;-).
I have to say that riding along with the Fire Department was a fun, interesting, and educational experience – I learned a lot and it was something I look forward to being able to do again in the future some time.
I would like to thank Northwest Fire for the opportunity and privilege of being allowed to do a ride-a-long with them.