Firefighters: Our Local Heroes
Sacramento County is divided into several fire districts responsible for fire suppression, toxic spills, fire prevention and safety, rescues and emergencies.
Grand.Jury members had the opportunity to "ride-along" with county and city services such the police, sheriff, canine patrol, sheriff helicopter and boat patrol, fire department and others. These experiences provided the Grand Jury with insight into the day-to-day activities, challenges and successes of our vital public services.
Members of the Grand Jury rode with the local fire departments and reviewed annual management reports. In this report we hope to relate an image of the events as they unfolded and some facts about the operation of our local fire districts. While our experiences varied, our impressions were clear-our local fire fighters are heroes. This report seeks to provide the public with a composite of the information obtained not an exact description of any one district or station house. The goal is to recognize the efforts of our fire fighters while increasing the public's awareness.
Sacramento is fortunate to have highly competent fire fighters. Along with their regular training, many are also Emergency Medical Technician certified. Others are paramedics, hazardous materials specialists, search and rescuers and prevention educators. Oklahoma City recently honored Sacramento City's Search and Rescue Crew for their tireless efforts to find bombing victims.
Toxic and hazardous material spills are managed by stations in the area. Stations protect the Capitol, rural areas and our high-rise commercial structures. Major freeways crisscross the county and city's center section. Large industrial concerns and a military base operate within our area. Two major waterways and a complex network of levees surround our homes, major transportation routes and the center of state government. Communication, training and planning are coordinated among fire departments, districts and other agencies to assure that no single incident becomes a disaster.
Roles and Responsibilities
Each station house and department is organized based on functions, equipment, personnel and budget. Usually truck crews are the first on the scene. The crew consists of the Engineer (responsible for driving, communications, staging), Captain, and two fire fighter/emergency medical technicians. The crew raise the ladder to the roof, break holes in the roof and windows to let the smoke out and otherwise make it possible for the Engine Crew to enter the building. The Engine Crew is equipped with hoses, water and pumps. The function of the Engine Crew is to rescue people and to put the fire out.
The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Crew is made up of a highly trained paramedic/fire fighter and emergency medical technician/fire fighter. They provide the first response medical care and transportation to the hospital. For non-fire calls, the EMS Crew will respond. When personnel are needed, a Truck Crew or Engine Crew may also roll.
Experiencing the Job
The station is a flurry of activity. Fire fighters are performing a variety of duties when a call comes in. A buzzer sounds and lights flash indicating which vehicles will roll. Within a minute, critical information is obtained and the crew is pulling away from the station house.
The truck weaves through narrow urban streets where children play, cars fail to yield and no one reacts. In this particular neighborhood of low income, high unemployment, violence and drugs, few are aroused by the machinery, noise and personnel signifying life threatening emergencies.
Fire fighters arrive at the address and enter the home. They are directed back to a converted garage which is too small for the too many people who call it home. Medical services are provided quickly, skillfully and respectfully.
Fire fighters too often must provide emergency services in potentially violent situations which put them at additional risk. They may be called in to treat drug and alcohol overdoses, gunshot and stab wounds, battered spouses and children, and to deliver babies to mothers who have received little or no prenatal care. They frequently confront language and cultural obstacles, chaotic and crowded circumstances, and callers fearful of law enforcement and medical institutions. They enter these situations without hesitation.
Last year, the crew from one fire house responded to a caller who smelled a strong odor. The Captain and crew left the Engineer to attend the radio and await communication from inside the house. They entered the home and within moments it exploded. Flames enveloped the scene. The home was an inferno. One occupant and the fire fighters were on fire. The Engineer found himself in sole command. An outdoor Bar-B-Que had been brought indoors. A toddler had turned the gas knob to "on" and shut the door to the room. As a result, one person died and the fire fighters suffered serious injuries.
Courage, dedication, love of one's work, and commitments all describe our fire fighters. Life and death are real to fire fighters. Riding the truck is not just a childhood fantasy. Crime does not stop. Danger does not step aside.
Each fire house is a small world with its own culture. Word travels quickly from one station to another. Job-related issues, personal lives and job trauma are all part of this environment. Daily exposure to major life and death experiences can take a toll.
Stress counseling is not integrated into in-service training. One fire fighter said, "You have to go out and do the job and not feel the effects of the trauma."
Response Time In Sacramento, the response time averages under 5 minutes and our CPR survival rate is 67.7 percent. (Nationwide the rate is 15 percent.) If CPR is started within 4 minutes and medical services are initiated within 8 minutes, the chances of resuscitation are much greater. Sacramento's fire fighters' response time averages four to five minutes and is saving lives.
Staff reduction at fire stations may save money but may also increase response time. Reduced staffing may mean there are fewer fire fighters on the truck and, therefore, more time before the engine crews can start their rescue and fire suppression jobs. As a result:
· a crew may need to be called from another station
· containment and control of the fire may be more difficult
· homes and businesses may be totally consumed
· nearby buildings may be endangered
· lives of fire fighters and citizens may be jeopardized
It is possible that the decrease in crew strength can be offset by improvements in technology so that smaller crews can accomplish as much as a larger crew. For example, all the fire vehicles could be equipped with onboard computers with up-to-date information about the incident, traffic, available resources and estimated response times. Fire fighters could arrive in full protective gear instead of having to wait to suit up at the scene. When we scrimp on people and equipment, we must live with the consequences.
· Adopt your local fire house
· Ask the fire fighters what they need to make their job easier and reduce the strain of long hours. For example, you might bring goodies on holidays, provide exercise equipment with heart monitors, donate recreational items such as books, games, or videos
· Pull your vehicle to side of the road when you notice emergency vehicles with lights or sirens are activated
· Call 911 for medical assistance only when you need it
· Get involved with local funding decisions. Find out the impact on your safety and that of the fire fighters when budget decisions are made. Fire fighting is a science with research and data to show the safety and effectiveness of different methods and equipment