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For Bobby Halton: "Brother Berg Wants A Story"

Chad Berg, my good friend, wants a story. I have recently read Chief Halton's latest editorial, much on my mind. I take pen in hand,..or keyboard and this is what comes out. Please read it all, the major point is in the end.

So, Brothers, there we were....Hey, I'm not gonna lie to ya, it wasn't the coldest night in Alaska, we've seen much worse. But lend your ear (or eyes) and I'll tell you a tale of frozen fingers, ears and eyelids, moustache hairs stuck to masks, brothers goin' down hard on the ice, .....frozen limbs and raging fire!

Well, I'm not lie'n. It really is like that. However, there's no dramatic music. So we had this job at Phillips Field Rd. Came in just after midnight, on the evening of 10/30/08. Closest hydrant is 2400 ft. Type 2 building, insulated with polyurethane foam, no sprinkler system, and a wood frame 2 story office building inside a third of the structure creating massive cumbustable void spaces. Our brothers on A shift made a quick knock down with 1 3/4" lines, ...twice. Hot as hell in the office spaces, they tried to confine the fire there, not knowing it had already penetrated walls, may have had multiple sets, and was well on its way towards running the walls. Two lines were burnt through tryin' to get at the heat in the upper floor (I may have sequence of events out of place). This really made the company officer's case about using big water on big fire, ....but that is of course, another battle.

I arrived on scene about 30 minutes into the fire, roughly ten minutes into the defensive mode. Still trying to hold the fire to one end of the structure, I was sent to place our aerial device into service as a master stream on the second floor of the office area which had openings through both the wood frame walls and the metal exterior walls for windows. Efforts to hold the fire back came to an abrupt end as the roof began to sag across the A - C span. At that point, ordered to attack the fire showing from the roof line, I had my driver, Waisenan, take me up to a good 60 degree angle and then swept the peak of the roof line four a good hour.

Throughout the aerial operation, firefighter Tim Bramble of C shift, just over twenty-one did excellent service as my tip man, then Josh ? from FWFD, a new firefighter, took over on the vertical raise, his first time operating on the tip. In between frozen tip men, I operated alone, trying to open the roofline gap with the masterstream as by this time putting anyone near the roof wasn't a safe option. It was my intent to open enough roof with that straight stream to let the fire vent up. FF Ohms of University wasn't able to make it up the ladder, he was already so soaked and frozen, he could'nt safely move his arms, I had to send him back down. Manpower and airpacks were becoming a serious issue. Around that time FF Mulvaney, just twenty years old, dropped the ground from an extension ladder, his boots covered in ice, ....fell a good 15 feet at least. (He's okay, he didn't land on his airpack).

City Fire, Wainwright Fire, Chena Goldstream and Steese all committed a few men each, but after several hours, the pool is empty. With the inital attack crew out of service in rehab, we had only one shift left to fight the fire. City's Platform did good service throughout the fire, and not to forget the heavy commitment that each department made in the water supply operation.

My airpack ceased to function, but there wasn't anyone to replace me, so I kept at it until ordered down. During that time my radio lapel mic froze open and as a particularly nasty ball of ugly smoke rolled up at my feet, I blurted out "Oh, F*#!?$." As if to say, "I bet I'm gonna end up on closecalls.com gallery".

Here's the thing. During that fire, which eventually went out, the young men and women of the University Fire Department were on their feet at -13/-15 below for over 6 hours into the dawn, then many continued to work right along side me and my fellow shift Captain for another 24 hours straight. Everyone on scene was frozen to the core, several having been involved in Tod and Jerry's fight to stop the fire early on. Tod mention's extreme heat in the initial attack and specifically points out the strong work done by his company of skinny, short hard working University Firefighters. FF Russell and FF Stansbury, both under twenty years.

In an answer to Bobby Halton's latest Editorial in the recent issue of Fire Engineering, our department is standing strong, built on young, energetic men and a few solid young women. We guide, teach and infuse ourselves and our culture into these "cursed generation types" and we lead them with a "First In, Last Out" mentallity and believe it or not, just as Chief Halton pointed out, .....they do the job, they give everything they have while the effort is being made and many go beyond.
There are times I really miss being a part of a company of grown men, lasting years with the same guys. You can really rely on their experience and maturity. But you know, I would never leave these valiant young people. They go the extra mile, whenever we ask it of them, ....when we ask in a way they can understand, with an approach that make sense to thier language of today.

I don't change myself for them, I change the way I communicate myself. And other than that, they are the same people they've always been, that we also were. If we want strong, ethical, moral, honest, hard working firemen with integrity and fortitude than we must first and foremost be that ourselves. Follow that with quality, solid training! They do see it, they are captured by it, because it is so different than the world they live in today. LEAD and they will FOLLOW!!

Give me a company of University Firemen, and I'll take on the beast any day. You take a company of our University Firemen, and they will bring to bear everything they have soaked up here, and duplicate it for you there. They are some of the best Alaska has to offer the Fire Service. ....They're also really good at XBox. I'll see you Brothers on the next job!! FTM-PTB-KTF-RFB-DTRT-EGH!!!!!

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Comment by Bobby Halton on November 7, 2008 at 2:31pm
Ben,

As always you amaze me with your ability to write you should have my job! Thank you for your story, you point out very well the incredible character and integrity of this generation of firefighters who are coming on today. I get so disappointed in the self-righteous among us who throw labels on this new generation like "entitled" and worse.
These new firefighters do not believe the world owes them anything. These new firefighters are willing to work hard, work long and do anything we are willing to do.

I sleep very well at night knowing the future of this country is in the hands of such incredible people. I sleep very well at night knowing the safety and security of this country is in the hands of men like my son.

And anyone, and I mean anyone wants to argue that point, bring it on, you will have to get past Ben and I.

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