So here was the next big day of my trip.
My first day in the Fire House of Engine 13…
Justin picked me up early from the Hotel and drove us down to the Fire House. We had to be early as he needed to go and get some breakfast for the crew that was currently on duty.
One thing I learned very quickly was that there is a whole load of tradition around working in a Fire House, especially one that is not your usual place of work. The first thing I noticed was that Justin was in full dress, his usual uniform that is, but along with his Cap and Tie.
It all comes down to respect and one thing that I very quickly came to realise. This was a place of work, for sure, but like the name suggests it was also the Fire Fighters home for at least the next 24 hours, sometimes even 48.
Justin very much treated it like going into someone’s house, and I followed along suite, although with quite a bit of trepidation.
We stopped off at a local coffee shop for a tray full of Muffins to take in with us. Justin gave them to me to take in, but it was clear that I wasn’t to make any big gesture of it, just put it down on the dining table when we get in.
As we walked in, some of the crew were already sitting down at the table eating left over’s from last night’s meal for their breakfast. A couple of them said hello but a couple of them also seemed to not acknowledge that I was there.
It was a completely different atmosphere than that of being at the Ambulance depot the 2 days before, and to be honest, it had me wondering how the next couple of days were going to go. Justin made sure I was introduced to everyone as they came down to the table for their breakfast and then we went into the office to meet the Captain and the Lieutenant who I would be working along with for the next 12 hours. All seemed friendly and genuinely interested to have me along, but there did seem a little bit of reservation going along with it all.
Maybe it was because I didn’t have the ‘common bond’ of being a fire fighter. I was only a paramedic after all!
Soon after I sat at the table along with some of the guys, in walked Willa!
Over the next two days, Willa became the one person (other than Justin of course) who I would give my right arm for to be my partner on an ambulance. But I will be honest here; at first I was scared of her!
She had a ‘certain way about her’ that made it very clear that you should never get on the wrong side of her, and she had a vocabulary to match that image too! She and Justin obviously got on very well and it wasn’t long before the insults were flying towards him.
I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to take any photos of her, so I thought that would be the best way to test the ground, and decided I would try to get a photo later on.
Once all of the crew had gathered round the table, the Captain gave a briefing on what the plans were for that day, and the only thing that was arranged was to be a fire alarm test and floor evacuation drill at a local high rise building in the financial district, where Engine 13 was based.
Justin then took me out to the Garage area and showed me ‘my seat’ for the next two days. I was given very clear instructions about what to do and more importantly what not to do. In the event of a fire call, I was to stay at the front of the Engine and not move and not touch anything! Fair enough, I am not a Fire Fighter and wouldn’t want to be running into anything hot and scary anyway!
Justin then gave me a tour around the engine and the Ladder truck. OOoooo the Ladder Truck, what an amazing piece of engineering and machinery. It was huge!! I had my eye on that training seat as soon as I saw it and Justin promised that before I left San Francisco, I would have had a ride out on it.
At about 10am, we all jumped into the Engine, with Chris Eldridge there to do the filming of us working from the Engine. This left Ted on station to create his own little production studio at the back of the Garage.
As we were heading to the fire drill, a job came through on the radio and computer in the cab for a building alarm call. On went the lights, the Federal Q siren was on and off we headed, with me with a HUGE grin right across my face. I have been on many thousands of Ambulance emergency drives but this was my first emergency drive in a Fire Engine, and what a first it was!
I kept glancing in all of the mirrored fronts of the buildings that we past, looking at the reflection of this beautiful machine I was travelling in. I know it sounds kind of gushy, but you can see why so many people are taken up with the sight of a San Francisco Fire Engine as it goes past them. Heres a clip of us going on a run later in the day :
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But, as beautiful as it was, my god it was bumpy!! I’m sure that had nothing to do with Willa`s driving by the way. Anyway, we arrived on scene and I quickly jumped out and stood in front of the Engine as instructed. I think I stood out like a bit of a sore thumb though in my wonderful green uniform.
It was only a couple of minutes after the guys went in to the building that they returned, informing me that it was a false alarm and all was well.
We then drove the short distance to the office block where Justin, the Lieutenant, Chris and I went up to the umpteenth floor to meet up with the Fire Wardens who were conducting the test.
Justin had his fire kit on at this point and seemed to take on a slightly different demeanour with the different role he was now performing.
The test went well with all of the staff performing admirably. My favourite point was when the alarm went off on one of the floors; we were standing in the lobby of that floor with Chris and his camera pointing straight at the exit door of the office that was going to be evacuated. The first person came out of the door all nonchalantly and jovial. He took one look and saw the camera pointing at him and changed tact within a second. All of a sudden it was
“Come on Guys; Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go!!….Get a move on, Come on let’s move it along!!!”
Hilarious, the power of the Dridge and his camera was truly awesome!
We finished off at the building then it was on to THE most important job of the day….Shopping for lunch and tea (or rather dinner – I kept confusing Justin by calling it tea!) I followed along in the supermarket whilst Justin and Willa did the shopping.
I wondered what I would be eating when I saw Willa pick up a pack of pigs trotters! I’m not the most adventurous eater at the best of times, but there was no way I was going to offend any of the Station 13 crew by not eating a full meal with them.
At one point I was walking along with Willa when she realised that Justin hadn’t got something that he was meant to have (Shame on you Justin!!) Justin went off one way and Willa went the other, but not before she looked over her shoulder and said
“You just stay where you are and don’t move!”
Oh, okay! I felt as though I had just been ordered by my mother!
Justin returned with what he had been sent to get and with me in tow we went to look for Willa.
A couple of minutes later we found her in the Vegetable section. The first thing she said?
“I thought I told you (looking at me!) to stay where you were and not move!!”
“Yeah, but Justin…..”
“No buts, when I tell you to do something you do it okay?”
Now I know that sounds that she was being a bit harsh, but it was said with a slight smile on her face, and I could tell that I was worming my way in little by little, and thought I would try for that photo!
Back to the station and it was time to prepare for lunch. Everyone pitched in, except me!
I tried on numerous occasions, but was told that there was nothing for me to do. I honestly felt like an outsider and as if I wasn’t wanted there, but what was later explained to me was that I was a ‘guest’ at the house and as such I wouldn’t really be expected or allowed to muck in with much.
Before we could sit down for lunch, the radios went off in the station and off we went on our first medical call. We were sent to an address for a 60 yr old female with breathing difficulties, Code 3 (lights and sirens). Chris and I quickly assumed our seats, Justin took his place opposite me in the Medic seat and off we went.
Unsurprisingly the response times for Engine 13 are pretty impressive. I asked Willa later in the day what the response area for Station 13 was…Go on, have a guess??
About 1.5 square miles!!!
So within 2-3 minutes we pulled up at a residence building and wound our way up numerous corridors and a ramshackle lift, to finally arrive at the patient’s door. Justin obviously took the lead with being the Paramedic on the vehicle. With any medical call the Paramedic is the most senior person on the Engine at that time, even above the Captain, so everyone else just followed Justin in and followed his lead. Willa assisted with observations and anything Justin needed, and I just hovered in the corner watching what was going on.
As soon as we walked into the room, I had already decided that if I was looking after this patient back in Newcastle, I would have stood down the ambulance that would have been following and I would have been referring him on to his local GP or Urgent Care nursing team for them to visit her or see her at some time during the day. Listening to Justin’s assessment, there was no immediate concerns regarding her health and in all honesty, all of her symptoms were pretty minor.
Virtually as soon as we arrived at the patient’s side, I could hear the ambulance pulling up outside who would be transporting the patient to hospital. Another couple of minutes passed and then the crew arrived to take over care of the patient. This time it wasn’t a SFFD crew, but one of the private companies that also respond to 911 calls when required. The speed of the back up from the Ambulance left me with some thoughts on the appropriateness of sending a fire engine tearing through the streets for a medical call, when there was an ambulance in the area and allocated to the same job already, but that is something that I will address in the wrap up for my two days on Engine 13
Another quick handover followed and we were then released from the scene and back on the engine for a short drive back to station and my first taste of the legendary SFFD Firehouse food!
And what a meal it was too……