After spending just one evening at Harrogate Fire Station it was clear that there was no such thing as a ‘typical day’ for the firefighters.
However, apart from sadly learning that health and safety meant a fireman’s pole was a thing of the past, here are seven other things I learnt from my time with the firefighters,
1. Despite the promise of a bed to sleep in, resting times are few and far between.
At the beginning of my shift, Simon Wall, the watch manager at Harrogate Fire Station showed me to the room I would be spending the night in. This was one of the few and far between instances during the shift that I did receive ‘special treatment’ as a room to one’s self was not on offer to the firefighters on duty. However, this ‘special treatment’ did not stretch to being exempt from responding to emergency calls at all hours and I quickly realised how difficult it was to sleep through the alarm. As I stretched and yawned in the back of the engine, the firefighters around me had already sprung into action deciding on the quickest route and discussing how they would respond to the situation.
2. Firefighters are more reliable and knowledgeable than the average sat-nav.
After proving that many firefighters could easily turn their hand to a career as a chef, the evening tests began. It’s no use for firefighters to race to their engine in less than one minute if they have no idea where they’re going so, once again, preparation is everything. The firefighters took it in turns to outdo the Tom Toms to respond to quick fire questions from Mr Wall about the quickest travel routes. ‘It’s 2am. How do you get to the Beech Grove?’ For anyone thinking the fact that it’s 2am is redundant, after-first hand experience knowing where Beech Grove is at 2am is a lot more impressive than finding it at 2pm. This test is just one of many to keep the firefighters one step ahead.
3. It’s not just about fire-fighting for the firefighters.
For every incredible life-saving action that the firefighters perform there is undoubtedly a piece of paperwork that needs filling out. After responding to a routine incident at a hotel in Harrogate on the night, Mr Wall spent 20 minutes in front of his computer screen three hours later inputting every detail of the call-out into the computer. Tedious and time-consuming as it might be, like everything the firefighters do on their shift it has an important point. Every call-out, inspection and emergency response is recorded to give the team more information on properties for future incidents. The more information the firefighters have on their approach to a property, the better equipped they are to deal with it, so nothing is left to chance.
4. Fitness is paramount.
Despite the time spent behind the desk and in front of the computer, there is no getting away from the fact that being a firefighter is a physically demanding job. Moving heavy objects and people is a day-to-day occurrence and the team need to ensure they are fit for the fight. After a quick coffee at the start of the shift, the rowing machines and benches were rolled-out for an intense session of circuit training. After half an hour of trying to keep up with the firefighters as they moved from exercise to exercise I was about ready for a rest. But, as I said before, rest time is a rarity at the station.
5. Firefighters take their training very seriously.
The way that Harrogate firefighters seem to instinctively know how to respond to an emergency situation clearly doesn’t happen by chance. Blocks of time are set aside in the evening for a series of training events which may include fire fighting techniques, medical knowledge and skills, hazardous materials or specialised rescue training. In this instance, the firefighters constructed a road traffic collision situation and were instructed to rescue a trapped victim with potential spinal injuries. Whilst my acting skills as the ‘victim’ were found wanting the same could not be said of the firefighters response abilities. The team set about with military coordination and precision, deciding the safest way of getting me out without further injuries. The windows were smashed, the roof removed and I was rescued from the car without a single scratch. Very impressive.
6. Prevention before intervention is key.
From installing smoke alarms in the houses across Harrogate to teaching children as young as five about the importance of fire safety, Harrogate firefighters leave no stone unturned to prevent a disaster. After the firefighters were given their jobs for the night ahead at the start of the shift, a rigorous check of each fire engine and piece of equipment to ensure that it is fully operational. This meticulous level of planning carried on throughout the evening as the crew made sure that it wasn’t only the public that were fully prepared if and when an emergency arises. Although slightly less glamorous than tackling a blaze, fitting and checking these smoke alarms is a vital service the firefighters provide to keep the public safe.
7. However, when intervention is needed the firefighters are up to the call.
As much as firefighters stress that prevention is key before intervention, there is no way to prevent all fires. The alarms will always sound and firefighters have to be prepard for all manner of scenes on arrival. At 11pm the big moment came and I was summoned to the fire engine. Responding to the calls of a fire on Stanhope Drive, the firefighters and I packed into the two engines and the flashing sirens were sounded. The eight firefighters went to work as one unit after arriving on the scene, finding out what happened, handling the public involved and, most importantly, making sure everyone inside and outside the house was safe. A unique, first-hand experience for me but just another day of preventing disasters and saving lives for the firefighters in Harrogate.