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It’s a ‘family’ business

By Staff
With Station 2 online, firefighters/EMTs find
a mix of old, new duties
By MIKE VOSS
Contributing Editor
While drinking coffee, eating a biscuit or taking something out of the refrigerator, there’s a discussion among about a half-dozen people about the activities and events planned for the day.
Sound like a typical morning for a family? It could be.
But these descriptive words tell the story of a typical morning for a shift starting work at one of Washington’s fire stations, whether it’s Station 1 or Station 2. That’s how the B Shift firefighters/EMTs began their 24-hour shift at Station 2 on Friday.
Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming and mowing the grass and other chores performed by countless families were replicated at Station 2 during that shift. Why the family analogy? That’s what firefighters are — family. And if you are a firefighter, the other firefighters on your shift are your immediate family during that time.
That’s the way firefighters with the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department feel.
Johnson’s schedule, at the station and away from the station, and his wife’s schedule often don’t mesh, meaning they may not see each other as often as they would like.
While at Station 2, Johnson and his men — engineer Robbie Taylor and firefighters/EMTs Doug Bissette, Bryan Lilley and Ashby Tippet — treat the station as their home. And for 24 hours, two or three times a week, it is their home. It’s a new home. Station 2 began operating April 1. Because it’s a new station, the firefighters who work there plan to keep it looking as new as possible.
Unlike most normal families, the firefighters also have “chores” other than keeping their home clean and maintained.
Fire calls, EMS calls, rescue calls, fire inspections, training, more training and even more training fills the days. For Johnson and the other lieutenants assigned to Station 2, there are assignments to make, equipment and apparatus checks to make and plenty of paperwork to do. If that’s not enough, breaking in a new fire station means added work.
At 8:37 a.m. Friday, Bissette and Tippett, assigned to the EMS 2 unit that day, respond to their first EMS call. Putting aside what they were doing, they get in EMS 2 and respond to the call at a residence on U.S. Highway 17 north of Washington.
There’s a problem locating the residence.
He was referring to either the absence of address numerals on buildings and mailboxes, or address numerals that are not large enough to be easily seen from the road, street or highway even if they are on a building or mailbox.
Anything that slows down a EMS unit’s response to a call can mean the difference between life and death, said Bissette. The difference of two minutes could mean someone taken to a hospital later walks out of that hospital and returning home instead of never returning home, he said.
Bissette and Tippett would make three other EMS calls Friday, the last one involving a minor, two-vehicle wreck shortly before 11 p.m. After each EMS run, reports on each run had to be made. Twenty years ago, a laptop computer and a printer on an EMS unit were unheard of. Today, they are standard equipment.
Between their EMS runs, they would perform fire inspections at three businesses.
At the end of each fire inspection, the property owner, business owner or the person in charge of the business that day is advised about the results of the inspection. If there are not enough fire extinguishers, that’s pointed out. If fire exits are blocked or not properly marked, that’s pointed out. Improper use of extension cords will be discussed.
If violations are found, the property owner, business owner or person is charge is given a specific number of days to correct any violations discovered during an inspection.
If the inspection finds nothing amiss, the inspecting firefighters wish the owner or person in charge a “Good day” and move on to the next business.
When not fighting fires, responding to EMS calls or performing fire inspections, firefighters train. One training session may deal with removing people trapped in confined spaces such as an elevator. Another session may deal with fire suppression. Yet another session may focus on how to work a hazardous-material spill.
Some duties require muscle power instead of mind power.
At the station, there’s talk about the weather not clearing up in time for the grass at the 2.25-acre site on which Station 2 sits to be mowed. With plenty of rain forecast for the next day, there’s worry that when B Shift returns to work Monday, the grass will be taller and more difficult to mow with the 20-inch push mower assigned to the station.
About 2 p.m., the weather improves.
While Bissette and Tippett are out on EMS calls and performing fire inspections, the remaining B Shift personnel are outside the station, taking turns pushing the mower, using a weed-eater and manning a leaf-blower. While Lilley is mowing the lawn in front of the station, Johnson is picking up stones on the station property. Before long, he’s filled a five-gallon bucket with stones. Meanwhile, Lilley’s still pushing the mower.
Throughout the day, Taylor, the engineer, makes sure the firefighting apparatus is in excellent working order. That means not only making sure Station 2’s fire engine and quint, a combination aerial-pumper vehicle known as Ladder 1, are mechanically sound, but making sure the equipment on them and equipment kept elsewhere at the station are ready for use at a moment’s notice.
Taylor’s at home poking his head into a cabinet on a fire engine, making sure the proper equipment is in the proper place.
On his return to the station, Tippett takes a turn with the mower. When it comes to keeping the station clean and its grounds looking good, everyone at the station gets their hands dirty.
For Johnson, the duties and chores performed each day by the department’s employees dispels a perception some people have about firefighters/EMTs.
There is a large-screen TV in Station 2’s day room. Calling it a day room may be misleading. During daylight hours, the day room is seldom used. Except during lunch break, the day room remains dark from about 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. or later. After supper, activity in the day room does increase. Firefighters gather there to watch TV, read a newspaper and converse about a call earlier that day, who’s going to cook meals during their next shift and which candidate would make the better governor or president.
And if there was not a fair amount of joshing with one another, well, it wouldn’t be a fire station.
That doesn’t mean chores are done for the day. After supper, the kitchen is cleaned. Sweeping and mopping isn’t confined to just the kitchen. Hallways, offices and other areas are cleaned.
Some firefighters such as Bissette, who’s in school and working toward an associate’s degree in the fire-fighting field, try to find some time to study and prepare for their next classes. Some firefighters like Lilley will work additional shifts when other firefighters take vacation time or sick leave. Doing that provides them with extra money. For Lilley, that means he’s able to do more for his family.
Jimmy Davis, chief of the department, spent part of Friday, the day before his birthday, at Station 2. As chief, Davis is the patriarch of the departmental family. That means making sure the family has what it needs, its members are doing their chores and working together when it comes to protecting and saving lives and property.
Saving lives and protecting property — that’s the reason Station 1 and Station 2 exist.
As Davis said when Station 2 opened, “It’s a life or death thing.”