Mastering streets in one's district is something that comes with effort and time. For those in large cities, the problem is compounded with promotions or transfers to a foreign area. You have to start all over again.
I would make the bold assertion that anybody who has been in this business for any amount of time has drawn a blank on a street or fouled up an address, unless, of course, you are Mike Stoker.
I was responsible for two epic foul-ups over the years.
You never forget your first
One was a fire alarm on a street called Lakeview. I told everybody that I knew right where it was and there was no need to look it up. I skillfully guided our life-saving machine in record-setting time to Lake Court.
To this day some of my co-workers will call out from the backseat, "No need to look it up!"
The second foul-up was a late-night ambulance call in an adjacent jurisdiction. The address was on Pecan Street.
One of the first fatality fires I made was on this street. I remember crawling in the smoke and coming upon the lifeless body on the floor. You remember things like that.
Well, as I learned, there are two Pecan Streets in this jurisdiction. Guess which one I was at. I don't say I know right where something is anymore.
A Briar by any other name
The people who laid out streets way back when never really gave much thought to how it would make life difficult for us. In the first-alarm area I drive there are more than 600 streets. Over half a dozen of these are a derivative of the word Wick — Wick-this, that-Wick.
When we venture into Houston, there are enough Post Oaks and Briar derivatives to make your head spin. I drove in a district years ago where all the streets were circular. Each side of the circle was a different street name, and don't you hate stopping and starting streets? The 1300 block is off this street, then the 1500 block is off this street.
Give me a place like Philadelphia, where the main streets run east and west and the numbered streets run north and south. You can figure out your bearings there. In New York City, streets run east and west and avenues run north and south. You can navigate.
If I took off in Houston or Dallas without a map, I would probably never be heard from again. My picture would be on milk cartons.
So how do we learn all these streets? When I came along you had to take territory tests. We usually took one a month. Most places still do this in some form.
A lot of departments also make you learn the hydrants. An old chief once told me that in some neighborhoods it's easier to learn where hydrants aren't as opposed to where they are: There is one on every corner except (fill in the blank).
Something I used to do that really helped was running the hydrants. If you are involved in the ISO chase, you have to check hydrants annually. Many years and pounds ago I ran from hydrant to hydrant wearing my fluorescent vest and toting my can o’ grease. I still occasionally do this.
I know some of you are scoffing by now and wondering why I haven’t embraced technology. You are wondering in what century I reside. A dear friend addresses me as Mr. Dinosaur, and yes, I do like Burke eye shields on leather helmets.
HAL, I won't argue with you anymore
Yes, in all fairness, we now have mapping software and GPS programs available. Admittedly, that has certainly aided us in getting around. However, that isn't perfect.
A new street may get overlooked and not added to the database. And on occasion computers refuse to play nice and display only blue screens.
During a disaster, such as a hurricane, the Internet may be unavailable in certain parts of town. I guess the compromise here is to have a working knowledge of the streets and use the cyber maps.
We were discussing this very topic at the United Nations Security Council, also known as the firehouse kitchen table, the other day. A young kid on our shift — he is 21 and anybody 21 or under is a kid to me — made the statement, "In 2013 there is no reason to memorize maps."
I looked at him and smiled. He is a good kid and he wasn't being sarcastic or anything like that. He genuinely felt that way.
Stop and look at the world from his perspective. He and his like have never lived in a world without cell phones. You can send messages and make calls from airplanes.
I am still in awe of a lot of this stuff. The first cell phone I ever had was a brick-like thing that was shaped like a WWII walkie-talkie with a rubber antennae.
Phones now are like computers that you can occasionally use to make phone calls. A colleague of many years had to order a new phone the other day, and when it came in, it was a Facebook phone. When you open it, you go right to Facebook. He said, "Can you call anybody on this?"
These kids have never lived in a world without Al Gore's Internet. If they want to know something, they Google it on their phones. So naturally when they have to find something out like how to get to Lakeview, they look it up on their phones.
Me, I like to hear a map page during the dispatch. That's how I roll.
I hope everybody had a good summer and let me hear from you.
About the author
Will Wyatt, who is originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for 25 years. Will currently works as an engineer/operator at the Village Fire Department in the Houston, Texas, area. Will also works part time at another fire department and part time at a 911 emergency medical service. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments in the Houston area including full time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master fire fighter certification with the State of Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification, an associate degree from Houston Community College and a basic EMT certification. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of FireRescue1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser.
Rene IrickSaturday, October 05, 2013 10:00:39 AMI must be a Dinosaur also all the new devices boggle my mind. no your district at least what side you are going to. and the roads that are chopped up and don't pick back up for a mile or so hate it. one of the districts next to us, have no.# roads but 7 is in between 5 & 6 and it's not a through road starts a mile and 1/2 down and is only mile long. you can all ways tell when the phone or PG&E are look for it they go up and down back and forth untill someone stops to tell them where it is. I have done this many time .
James A AnemaSaturday, October 05, 2013 10:26:45 AMA friend likes to say you are only a 25 cent fuse away from being lost if you rely totally on electronic gizmos and gadgets. Maps don't need power to operate, and you can see the bigger picture on them for alternate routes and added notes.