A house fire timeline for volunteer firefighters

There should be plenty of time to knock the fire, grab a few hours of sleep and make it to work. What could possibly go wrong?

By Mikey Heinrich

Want a peek behind the current and see the day in the life of a typical volunteer firefighter battling a house fire? I thought so. Here you go. As an added bonus, I've included the typical inner dialouge to put in the moment.

11:30 p.m: Tones go off. 

Confirmed house fire. Address given. After a brief moment to confirm that it is not your address, you throw clothes on and stop to pee on your way out the door. When you were new, you skipped that step. Rookie mistake. Not everywhere has tree cover.

The voice in your head begins: “What am I going to do when I get there? Where‘s the nearest hydrant? What tools am I going to need? Did I remember to pee? Yes? Good. Let‘s do this.”

11:42 p.m.: Arrive at scene of house fire. 

“Wow. That there is a lot of fire."

11:43 p.m.:  After putting your crew on scene, the chief assigns you a task. 

“Why didn‘t I make the first rig? I‘d already be interior if I made the first rig. I should never have stopped to pee. Stupid bladder.”

12:15 a.m: Interior attack, second crew in.

12:35 a.m.: Still interior. 

Seat of fire in an inaccessible position. Air tank still inexplicably not empty.

“OK, I could use a break now.”

12:39 a.m.: No change. 

“Seriously. Somebody‘s low-air alarm go off. Aaaaaaany time now would be fine.”

12:41 a.m.: Still no change. 

“Look at Sanderson. How the hell does Sanderson still have air left? He‘s sucking it down like it‘s chocolate milk. Go off, Sanderson‘s low-air alarm. Go off."

12:58 a.m.: Outside at rehab. 

Fire still not knocked down. Enjoyment of cold water slightly marred by shame of having been the one whose low-air alarm went off first. Sanderson smiles smugly from across the yard. 

1:45 a.m.: Back inside. 

Main fire knocked down. Fire extension immediately discovered in attic. And basement. And, inexplicably, closet on completely other side of house.

“I only had like one bottle of water. How in God‘s name can I have to pee?”

2:30 a.m.: Fire under control and useful tree discovered in neighbor‘s backyard.

As you pull ceiling to check for further extension, you mentally begin doing the math as to how much sleep you can still possibly get before 9 a.m. meeting at your day job.

“OK. If we get back to the station by 3, we should be able to get everything reset by 3:30. Five minutes home, that gives me … what … like a solid three and a half hours, maybe four.”

3:15 a.m.: Further fire extension found in walls. 

You are already mentally composing the email cancelling your 9 am meeting. There is now a reasonable line to get to the neighbor‘s tree. On the plus side, Red Cross hot dogs are here now.

“How can that be the only tree on this block?”

5:05 a.m.: Your crew has finished gutting what looks like was once a reasonably nice home office. 

You spend five solid minutes fantasizing about being able to work from home yourself, so that your oncoming workday could include a nap — and not wearing pants, and possibly a gin and tonic.

“That has to be it, right? There can‘t be anything left to overhaul at this point.”

6:30 a.m.: Your crew has been notified that this is a case of suspected arson and you‘ll need to remain on scene until the investigative team gets there. 

The rising sun mocks your coming workday. Sanderson has dozed off against the tree. The Red Cross has switched to sausages.

7:15 a.m.: You're back at the station cleaning tools and checking breathing apparatuses as fast as you possibly can. 

Periodically you glance at the clock and an almost imperceptible whimper escapes your lips.

7:47 a.m.: Back home.

You would have 13 minutes to sleep, but the dog needs to be let out, and he seems to think that since you‘re home it‘s now time for a walk. As you open the door to let him out, you hear the tones go off again.

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