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Captcha
05-16-2013, 02:35 AM
I'll contact a real volunteer firefighter in the area my story is set if I decide to go ahead with this, but I don't want to bother someone if the idea is a total no-go...

I want my character to be a volunteer firefighter who is called to a fire near his own home. I want him to drive directly to the site rather than driving to the firehall and then riding out with the engine and upon arriving I want him to perform a heroic rescue before the rest of the team arrives. I assume there would be some level of censure for him taking a risk, but I can deal with that. Is this all pretty realistic so far?

I also want there to be at least one person killed in the fire, despite my character's heroics. But I'm not sure how that would be discovered. I mean, the person lived in the house and didn't get out, so they'd assume he was killed, but would it be the job of the volunteers to comb through the wreckage looking for his body, or would they just extinguish the blaze and wait for fire investigators or coroners or somebody to come up from the city? And does anyone know approximate timelines on this? I'd like the fire to be reported about 9 at night, and I'd like my character to be done at the fire scene by... 3 or 4 am, maybe? Fire out, injured parties evacuated, bureaucracy at least temporarily satisfied. Does that seem like a reasonable timeline?

This is set in rural Ontario, if that affects anything.

Thanks for any help.

shadowwalker
05-16-2013, 04:03 AM
First question would be how would he know where the fire is - unless it's within physical view. If that's the case, I don't think there would be a problem with him going there sans proper fire gear, based on the idea he was trained and 'on the spot'.

Timeline, it depends on the location of the fire station relative to the fire, first, the kind of roads they have to travel to get there, and then the size of the building, how advanced the fire is, etc etc.

The body thing I can't help too much with - I can recall one fire with our local volunteers where there was a death, and it was one of the firemen who found the body. I believe, unless it's totally obvious the person is dead (as it was in this case - burned to a crisp) they will assume they're merely unconscious and take them outside. So they would definitely look for anyone inside, and not just assume death and forget it. The death itself would be investigated by the nearest coroner or ME; it used to be the fire chief would decide if the fire was suspicious or needed an arson investigation, but I couldn't say what current laws/regulations are.

Captcha
05-16-2013, 04:24 AM
When they're called to the fire, are they not given a location? I assumed there'd be a cell call or a page that told them they were needed.

I know there used to be a sort of siren that sounded in town for volunteers, but I don't think my town, at least, does that anymore - I assume it was too many people living/working out of range of the sound, and/or too many complaints about the noise...

Richard White
05-16-2013, 04:33 AM
My brother was a volunteer fireman. There were many times when he would hear about a fire while he was out doing something else and respond directly from where he was and meet up with the guys at the fire site. That's why he had blue lights mounted on the top of his old Javelin and kept his bunker gear in his trunk. He also had a police band radio in his car and another one at home so that he could keep track of things while he wasn't at the station.

In fact, most volunteer firemen didn't "stay" at the station on a regular basis (hence: volunteers). In our hometown, they used to take turns manning the station at night in two man teams. The other volunteers would either report to the station or to the fire event depending on where it was in relation to where they lived.

jclarkdawe
05-16-2013, 04:45 AM
Was on a volunteer firefighter/emt for years. Rose to the rank of captain. I've been there and done everything you're asking.

Department policy varies, so that's a factor here. Radio availability is also an issue. For most of my time on the department, I had a portable radio. Depending upon the location of the call, I'd either go directly to the scene or the station.

Let me give you an idea of what happened in one call that's pretty close to your scenario for going to the scene. Person calls in a fire, and fire alarm activates the pagers we all have. A reported structure fire in my town produces a full department response, plus mutual aid of one engine from two other departments. However, at this point, no one in the fire service has a clue what's actually happening.

The house is a little less then a mile from my house and I'm the nearest fire fighter. I head for the scene. As soon as I pull around the corner and can see the house, I confirm that we have a structure fire and request a second alarm. At this point, no fire engines have started to roll. (People are heading to the station.)

I park and get out and assess the situation. While I'm doing this, dispatch is re-toning the first alarm, and a second alarm, so I know what I've got that's going to begin to respond. I know my Chief has signed on as responding. I report to him and dispatch that we have a two-story house, 30 x 50 (feet), connection, and attached barn. Fire is in connection, and one room is fully involved, and two rooms are partially involved.

Once I'm done with my report, I then request a fourth alarm, skipping the third. I'm looking at the water supply situation, a major concern in rural firefighting. So by the time the Chief arrives, I've got all the equipment he's going to need coming, and all he has to do is organize it.

Delaying the response and we would have lost the main part of the house as well as the connection.

So a lot of volunteer departments have no problem with firefighters going directly to the scene, if it makes sense.

And sometimes, because of this, firefighters make rescues before any equipment arrives.

Classic way to realize there's someone is in a building is the car in the driveway. Firefighters get to find the bodies. Further we get to recover the bodies. It's part of the job description. I'd have to sit back and think to come up with how many bodies I've had to deal with.

At a fire, if we can't do a rescue and it's a recovery, fire suppression is done first. Once we get the fire entirely out, we start a search for the body (assuming we haven't already found it during the fire). When we find the body, we back out, and the coroner is called. Coroner arrives and the coroner, a couple of firefighters, and a police officer goes in. Firefighters job is to make sure the coroner, arson investigator, and police don't trip or do something else to get injured.

After they're all done, several firefighters then bag the body and remove it to the hearse. Length of time this can take is less then an hour to all day.

In your case, fire suppression would be done during the night. One engine and police would stay on scene for the rest of the night, both to protect the scene and to deal with hot spots. The next morning, after everybody has had coffee, the fire department would start a search for the body. Bottom line is it's hard to find a body in a fire, and you want as much light as you can get. And the dead never complain about how long it takes to find them.

Once the fire department finds the body, the coroner would be called. Concurrent with the search for the body, the arson investigator would start their work.

After a while, you can tell when you've got a rescue or a recovery operation and when it switches.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Captcha
05-16-2013, 05:13 AM
That's great information, JCD - thanks!

Would you say my timeline sounds somewhat accurate? Like, if my character got to the fire 9 or 10 at night, and then it turned into a 'recovery' operation maybe at 3 or 4 in the morning? I figure they could tell my guy that he can take a break for the rest of the night, since he's been there from the start? And some fresher guys, late arrivals to the fire, could handle the body recovery?

Would you all EVER get help from pro firefighters? Or is it pretty much your responsibility from start to finish? And is there any sort of rivalry/resentment between volunteers and full-time pros? Like, "We're the ones who care enough to do this without it being our job" vs. "We're the ones who have more time for training and are therefore more qualified"?

jclarkdawe
05-16-2013, 06:40 AM
That's great information, JCD - thanks!

Would you say my timeline sounds somewhat accurate? Like, if my character got to the fire 9 or 10 at night, and then it turned into a 'recovery' operation maybe at 3 or 4 in the morning? I figure they could tell my guy that he can take a break for the rest of the night, since he's been there from the start? And some fresher guys, late arrivals to the fire, could handle the body recovery?

Let's separate the fire fighting aspect from the recovery operation. However, for a body to be lost in the debris requires a fairly substantial fire. And volunteer firefighters have full-time jobs that they have to balance into this.

Figuring six hours for most of the fire fighting to be done on a fire that collapses most of the house is about right. As the fire becomes more and more under control, you start releasing people. You start with the fourth alarm companies, and work your way down.

So let's say by 3 AM you're just down to the town's fire department, consisting of two engines, a rescue, and one tanker. At 3, I'd send one engine and the rescue back to the station. Both trucks would have to be put back into service, with new hose lines put on the engine, air packs filled, tools cleaned, so on and so forth. Probably would take about an hour.

The hoses that were used would probably be put to one side, and cleaned the next evening.

The second engine and the tanker would stay at the scene. The second engine would be for dealing with hot spots and maintaining the scene, while the tanker is for shuttling water up to the scene. (My town has no hydrants. We either go to a neighboring town or pump it from water sources. A typical rural engine holds about 1,000 gallons of water.)

Police would also maintain a presence. If arson is suspected, or murder, a fairly heavy police presence would remain on the scene.

Most of the fire department would get a couple of hours of sleep before going to work at their full-time job.

Body recovery in most small departments tends to be those dumb enough not to have nightmares. Ideally I'd send them home for a couple of hours of sleep, but they also tend to just like to stay (my personal choice). You can catnap in the truck. Around 6:30 or 7:00, someone goes and gets McDonalds or whatever, and we get coffee and breakfast while planning out the approach. Before going in, you figure the layout of the house, likely locations for the body, arson and crime scene conditions, and risk factors. Then you wait for the Chief of the department, arson investigator (always involved with a death), and police to figure out their plans. It probably won't be until about 8AM before starting the search.

I'm not trying to be flip, but there's no rush. If you don't know where the body is in a burned structure that's had some level of collapse, you want all the visibility you can get. And you want to minimize the risk in something that is incredibly risky. Going into the basement of a two-story house, where the second floor is now on the first, with all that stuff above you to find a body (which I've done), is not an activity for the faint of heart. Buildings that have collapsed have a tendency to keep on doing that.

Depending upon conditions, we may have to bring in a backhoe or excavator.

Would you all EVER get help from pro firefighters? Or is it pretty much your responsibility from start to finish? And is there any sort of rivalry/resentment between volunteers and full-time pros? Like, "We're the ones who care enough to do this without it being our job" vs. "We're the ones who have more time for training and are therefore more qualified"?

Something like 90% of all firefighters are volunteers. Every one of them is a professional. Some of us do it for the fun, others for the paycheck, some are lucky enough to do it for both. Doesn't make a difference usually.

My town's second alarm response is from a full time department. I've covered their stations and been to their city for fires numerous times. When I took one of our new firefighters to the city for his driving test, we had to empty the tanker of water. After the guy passed his test, I called the city department and asked if I could pull into one of their stations to fill the tanker back up. No problem.

There are some issues involving unions, but those are usually at levels above most firefighters' pay grades, and they don't really care. I've heard rumors of problems, but never, ever saw any.

And I'd call in the big city department for specialty stuff. For example, they had a HAZMAT team and dive team. We didn't.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

shadowwalker
05-16-2013, 05:57 PM
When they're called to the fire, are they not given a location? I assumed there'd be a cell call or a page that told them they were needed.

I know there used to be a sort of siren that sounded in town for volunteers, but I don't think my town, at least, does that anymore - I assume it was too many people living/working out of range of the sound, and/or too many complaints about the noise...

We used to have a siren as well; now they have pagers. I would assume that most would be expected to go to the station first - somebody has to gather the equipment, drive the trucks, etc.

GeorgeK
05-17-2013, 02:50 AM
I'll contact a real volunteer firefighter in the area my story is set if I decide to go ahead with this, but I don't want to bother someone if the idea is a total no-go...

I want my character to be a volunteer firefighter who is called to a fire near his own home. I want him to drive directly to the site rather than driving to the firehall and then riding out with the engine and upon arriving I want him to perform a heroic rescue before the rest of the team arrives. I assume there would be some level of censure for him taking a risk, but I can deal with that. Is this all pretty realistic so far?

I also want there to be at least one person killed in the fire, despite my character's heroics. But I'm not sure how that would be discovered. I mean, the person lived in the house and didn't get out, so they'd assume he was killed, but would it be the job of the volunteers to comb through the wreckage looking for his body, or would they just extinguish the blaze and wait for fire investigators or coroners or somebody to come up from the city? And does anyone know approximate timelines on this? I'd like the fire to be reported about 9 at night, and I'd like my character to be done at the fire scene by... 3 or 4 am, maybe? Fire out, injured parties evacuated, bureaucracy at least temporarily satisfied. Does that seem like a reasonable timeline?

This is set in rural Ontario, if that affects anything.

Thanks for any help.Don't know about Ontario, but it would work for Rural Kentucky

Trebor1415
05-21-2013, 06:59 AM
My understanding, and someone correct me if they know better, is that any rivalry between "pro full-time" and "volunteer" firefighters usually only happens in larger cities like NYC or Chicago. Overall, throughout the U.S., most firefighters are volunteers and the relatively few full-time firefighters in most areas tend to work well with the volunteers in those areas.

WeaselFire
05-21-2013, 07:05 AM
That's why he had blue lights mounted on the top of his old Javelin and kept his bunker gear in his trunk.
This wasn't in Upstate NY in the late 1970's and his name was Brian by any chance...? :)

And yes, that's exactly what it's like.

Jeff

Richard White
05-21-2013, 07:14 AM
This wasn't in Upstate NY in the late 1970's and his name was Brian by any chance...? :)

And yes, that's exactly what it's like.

Jeff

Mid to late 70s yes, but no, his name was Jeff and he was in Boone County, Missouri. It was a '73 Javelin with a Highway Patrol rack mounted on the top with blue lights.

He said he could leave his car unlocked anywhere in the county. As well known as it was among the firefighters and cops/deputies around the county, who was going to steal it?

ECathers
05-21-2013, 10:17 PM
I'm no firefighter, but my uncle, cousins and cousin's hubby were on the volunteer FF force in upstate NY, and in CO our very good friend was a volunteer FF and my roommate considered joining (he had too many health problems to be admitted).

In the majority of rural places I've lived there IS no "professional" firefighting. It's ALL volunteer. The nearest "professional" force can be as far as 20-50 miles away.

As I recall the fire chief got a small salary and at the end of the year, the firefighters portioned out a very minimal bonus IF donations/town funds could cover it. Minimal as in around $1000 or less each, which certainly doesn't cover the hours, the lost sleep or the potential danger to your own life. In those places there isn't much money to go around, and the guys do it as their service to the community, and maybe for the thrills or for the bragging rights, but mostly because they just give a damn.

Back when I was a kid, before cell phones were invented we had a town siren. It'd go off every day at noon. If it went off any other time, all the guys reported to the fire station. In that very small town it was probably quicker for them to go directly to the station than for someone to sit around fielding landline calls regarding where to go for the actual fire.


In more modern CO, my FF friend had a radio which was on 24/7. Darn thing even worked on my land where we couldn't get cell service for our lives. Whether he reported to the station or just went on site depended on how close he was at the time.

As to why focusing on response first rather than going to the station, might be important in rural areas:

Our own house (trailer) went from first sign of spark to inferno in approx 5 minutes. By 10 minutes the place had completely burned down. Even if someone had noted the blaze in the first moments, there wasn't time for anyone, let alone someone who went back to the station then drove out the 15 minutes to the beginning of our drive and then the next 2 1/2 miles of driveway (another 10 minutes) to do any good. So in rural areas where travel distances can be looong, you go there as directly as you can if you're not called on to man the trucks. (Trucks wouldn't have made it up/down our driveway anyhow.)

As a not-so-funny aside, some newbies on the FF force saw our fire, and because it was Halloween night, decided it was probably some folks having a bonfire. (Despite the fact that burning was prohibited due to dry weather.) They got majorly chewed out later. We managed to survive the fire and spent a very cold night in our truck without the benefit of cell service or even being able to find our car keys, which had burned in the fire.

Myrealana
05-21-2013, 10:45 PM
My father spent 20 years as a volunteer fireman and EMT in my hometown, and was chief for five of those years.

When a call would come in, his fire pager would beep loudly and then announce the type of emergency and a location. There were occasions where he was closer to the emergency than to the fire station, and he would run or drive there directly - though to my knowledge he never entered a structure fire without bunker gear.

Six hours to fight a standard structure fire sounds reasonable. Don't forget that after the fire you have to wash the hoses and clean up - and then go to their day job.