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In bed sound asleep, when suddenly I hear a high pitched whistle and a lady talking. I am up and getting dressed omitting underwear as the 911 lady sends out her second page. Then the sound of a siren on my phone, this is a back up to the call sending a text with as much information available at that time. No time to spare, the only information they have is a location of a structure fire.
This Instant adrenaline rush is naught to ninety in seconds and out the door to be hit by the cold air minus 30c. Frantically scraping the van windscreen enough to see and drive the 7 blocks to the fire hall. The window should be fully cleared before driving off, speed and safety count, and at 2:30 am in our small village the only other people awake were firefighters responding.
People are arriving from all directions in various state of undress in different vehicles or on foot. Inside one man on the radio talking to 911 as we all jump into our turn out gear we listen and shout to each other any relevant information, politeness of please thank you go out the window at this point and no one is offended.
I was assigned to drive Pumper #1 with three passengers. All three fire trucks left the hall along with our Ambulance. The radio between the trucks is hot as a basic plan is made until we can see and assess the situation.
I was uncertain as to the exact location and the co-pilot was checking the map, as one local born and bred firefighter came onto the radio and said. “It is past Jim’s place first left at what used to be the old Williams farm".
As we reach the top of a hill we could see the flames, and one of our personnel was already on scene and able to describe the exact problem enabling us to arrange set up before arrival.
It was a farmer’s barn ablaze with essential equipment for his livelihood housed within, including flammable liquids. The barn was under trees which were now alight and spreading to grain bins. With each engine in place, the fight began.
The barn was too far gone to save at this point so we went into a defensive mode stopping further damage. There are no fire hydrants in the country and water supply limited to what we can carry; the 1200 gallons will not go far today. Thankfully we have a back up of locals who at a moment’s notice will bring water to us in all types of containers to dump into a holding tank from which we can pump.
In such cold conditions we were fighting the fire and loosing precious water to stop water freezing in the hose pipes because we had to let it trickle even if not in use. At one point I was second on a hose behind the main hose man. This helps with moving the heavy hoses and as a safety lookout for the main fighter. It was during this time I was able to take two photographs, on my cell phone not the best camera to use but in the circumstance the only thing I had with me and the only few moments I was hands free to do so.
Our feet were cold on the snow our faces frozen with the spray back of water, and yet the heat from the fire made out bodies hot.
We were fortunate to have a never ending supply of water and to take shifts at different tasks and rest so that no one got exhausted. This fire took over 4 hours to bring under control; we were still there at dawn when the clear up and further dowsing could be completed, and the owner could take stock of his loss.
We are a small village with many dedicated volunteer firefighters. We are not as we have been called “Farmers with hoses” or “the people who put the wet stuff on the red stuff.” Everyone one our team has at least a year’s training to level one; this includes a practical and written exams. Level one is the basic standard all firefighter professionals must have.
After working hard for hours during the night, fighting this fire, it is back to the Fire hall and no matter how tired we are, we have to clean and prepare all the equipment for the next call. All of our crew have day jobs to go as well. They barley have enough time for a shower and coffee, before going to work.
Next time you see an emergency vehicle on the road, pull over for them; they are going to a potentially life and death situation. Just think of where these dedicated folks come from, the hours of learning, practice dedication, lost of sleep, and their families who worry about their safety as they selflessly protect others often unknown to them.