Today will be an ask a Fireman day. Because we share such a great reputation as problem solvers in the real world, we get asked question about how we would solve a common problem everyone experiences.
First off though I would like to answer some common questions I have received over the years about firefighting. A frequent question was, do you really get cats out of trees? In a word, NO! We do not get cats out of trees, how many cat skeletons have you seen in trees?
Think about it, if cats couldn’t get down on their own wouldn’t most trees look like a macabre Christmas trees decorated with the remains of Fluffy in various states of decomposition? I can just see it, a pleasant walk in the park with a beautiful woman, holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes, and then a hunk of rotting feline falls on her head.
So don’t ask me about that again I’ve given my answer. Next up, are the firetrucks at car wrecks in case the cars explode? Again, NO! This one I blame on Hollywood, I don’t believe I have ever seen a movie car crash where the car doesn’t explode at some point.
Either immediately because the occupant needs to die, or shortly after a rescue is affected so a hero can be produced and drama enhanced. So why are we there you may ask? Well, because we are highly trained professional rescuers, EMT’s, paramedics, and we know what to do to save lives.
Do cars explode when they crash? Yes sometimes, but my experience has been that they do it soon after impact or not at all, so if the traffic is all jammed up and you are cursing the delay while waiting your turn to gape open mouthed at the crash scene. We are there for rescue and scene control.
While I’m on the subject on open mouthed gazing at crashes, can I ask you a favor? Don’t do it you vultures. Drive on by, slow down to keep the firefighters and other rescue workers safe, but please stop the ritual rubber-necking and pass by.
I get the curiosity factor, I do, but think about it what are you looking for? Are you really hoping to see something gruesome? Dismembered bodies, guts, decapitations, and blood? What are you looking for? Ask yourself that.
Because I have seen the list above and many many worse horrors, you don’t wanna know and trust me you don’t wanna see it either because it will haunt you for forever. Sorry I’ll get off the soapbox now, for at least the next paragraph.
Is it really hot in fires? Hell yes it’s hot in fires. Sometimes it got so friggin hot I watched as the bright yellow reflective stripes on my sleeves began to melt and drip, that’s hot. Here’s another one, we have all seen video of wildland fires, forest fires, and brush fires. The video can be very impressive.
I’m sure you have seen the air tankers fly over the fire and release that beautiful red mist of fire retardant on a fire. By the way it’s colored so the pilot knows where he has already been.
The idea behind dropping retardant on a fire isn't to actually put the fires out. Retardant creates a barrier that will slow fire enough to allow firefighters to attack it directly. The slurry is sticky enough to cling to whatever it is dropped on. The coated fuel doesn't burn well, so the fire slows.
An air tanker can drop ten tons of retardant on a fire in one pass. Guess what you don’t want to be under it, I have seen it flatten a tree like it was a daisy. The heat in this environment is absolutely astounding, if you have sat around a camp fire you know how the radiant heat of a fire can drive you away from those romantic flames, now times that by oh let’s say a million.
Notice I said the slurry slows the fire so the firefighters can put it out, they put it out by hand, with shovels, axes, pulaski and water if they have it. We have our own little badges of honor that only we know about, that only firefighters respect because they know what it means.
In the wildland environment, if you return to base camp with slurry on you or your helmet is slightly melted, damn you got my respect because you been in the shit. In the structure fire world a melted helmet still holds prestige as well as having melted your reflective stripes.
So I’m sorry I didn’t answer reader questions about how a fireman would handle a clogged drain or a bed wetting child, but feel free to ask, my advice is worth exactly what you pay for it as my father would say.