GFD: More than meets the eye

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 9, 2003

If you ask a firefighter what his biggest pet peeve is, more than likely this will be the answer: &uot;People thinking that all we do is sit around and watch TV when we aren’t fighting fires.&uot;

Although it is true that a small town such as Greenville doesn’t have a large number of fires, approximately 300 per year, it would be completely erroneous of anyone to think that our local firefighters spend most of their time parked in front of a television.

&uot;From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., this is a regular job,&uot; veteran firefighter Jimmy Campbell said. &uot;Monday through Thursday, every shift is responsible for checking the trucks and pumps to make sure they are working properly, and we check all batteries to make sure they are charged. We do everything that needs to be done to keep our trucks ready to roll. We can be up, dressed and out of the station in two minutes, even from a dead sleep.&uot;

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A typical day goes something like this:

n 7:45 a.m. – report to station

n 8:00 a.m. – shift change, roll call and preview of previous two shifts’ journals

n Physical training/workout for an hour each shift (when possible)

n Refuel trucks, if necessary. The trucks always have at least 3/4 of a tank of fuel

o Equipment check

o Training or grounds maintenance, any other required activity

o Of course, respond to any calls that are issued

A shift lasts 24 hours. Each firefighter works 24 hours on, 48 hours off – a three-day rotation. There are three shifts per station, and each shift usually is made up of three firefighters. The Greenville Fire Department has 20 full-time firemen, who man Station No. 1 downtown; and Station No. 2 on the Greenville Bypass.

Breaking it down

The weekends at the fire stations include an even more intense &uot;shake down&uot; of the GFD’s firefighting equipment and facilities.

&uot;Friday is equipment-check time,&uot; fireman Dale Lawrence explained. &uot;We pull every piece of equipment off the truck , make sure it works properly and do any necessary maintenance on it.&uot;

Maintenance includes refilling and checking the air tanks that are used with the firefighters’ air packs. Each fire station has approximately 11 tanks.

The air packs themselves have to be dismantled, checked for leaks and sanitized thoroughly.

&uot;These are our lifelines during a fire,&uot; firefighter Jeff Burt said. &uot;We have to make sure they work properly, or we could be in serious trouble on a call.&uot;

The equipment check also includes maintenance on the extrication equipment, used by the firefighters to rescue accident victims trapped inside vehicles. The extrication equipment includes spreaders (also called &uot;the Jaws of Life&uot;), cutters and rams. Each of these are hydraulic driven pieces of equipment that exert tremendous amounts of force. It is critical that they perform properly when needed.

Another part of the equipment check is testing the pumps and hoses on each truck.

&uot;We have to actually hook each truck up to a fire hydrant, and check all the relays, gauges and relief valves,&uot; Lawrence said. &uot;We also check the pump pressure to make sure we will be able to get water where we want it.&uot;

Truck No. 30, which is located at Station No. 2, holds 500 gallons of water, and will deliver 1,000 gallons per minute. No. 32, the station’s other truck, holds 750 gallons, and is capable of delivering1,250 gallons per minute. Both trucks are triple-combination Class A pumpers. That means they carry water, hose and pump, and are capable of delivering 100 percent of their capacity

at 150 gallons per square inch.

&uot;We don’t take chances on anything,&uot; Campbell said. &uot;We make sure every single instrument on these trucks is in top shape at all times. We check the pumps, gauges, batteries, hoses and valves – you name it; we check it.&uot;

Multi-level talent

The beauty of the fire department is not only are the firemen fanatical about checking these things, but they are the ones who maintain and repair most of them, too.

&uot;Many of our firefighters have second jobs,&uot; Lawrence said. &uot;They work in construction, as mechanics and several other types of jobs, and those skills come in handy around the firehouse. We service and repair the trucks and ambulances ourselves; unless it’s something major, such as repairing a transmission. There’s very little we have to send outside for someone else to do.&uot;

Saturdays at the fire stations are spent giving the firehouses a &uot;spic-and-span&uot; cleaning.

&uot;We really scrub this place down,&uot; Burt said. &uot;We have to clean it every day before shift change, but on Saturdays, we really do a thorough job of cleaning everything.&uot;

Sundays are reserved for decontamination of the ambulances and restocking of medical supplies.

On the medic side

The Greenville Fire Department has two ambulances – one that stays on call, and another one that is used as a backup when the first one needs maintenance.

Station No. 1 is home to the ambulances, and is the station that receives medical calls for locations within the city limits and on the Interstate.

&uot;Station No. 1 will respond first to medical calls, with Station No. 2 acting as backup,&uot; firefighter Chad Phillips said. &uot;Most fire calls are handled by Station No. 2, with No. 1 acting as backup. If one unit goes out on a call and another call comes in, the backup station is prepared to cover it. All of our units are redundant systems, with backups for everything.&uot;

Chad said that if both fire stations are called out, GEMS Ambulance becomes the backup for medical calls.

&uot;Yearly we have 1,200 medical calls that are handled by the fire department,&uot; Chad said. &uot;Of those, about 400 are for chest pains or other cardiac-related concerns, another 200 are trauma-related, such as wrecks or accidents, and 300 to 400 are for general illness.&uot;