Things have been pretty busy for me lately. This post is pretty long, but I’ve been working on it for several days.

I was supposed to go to my client’s place on Wednesday. Late in the morning, I was gathering my things to go to the client’s when I was toned out to a single vehicle car accident. It had been three weeks since the last call I had been on. Actually, the last two calls.

I drove direct to the scene. As I pulled up I could see a car in the ditch. There was roof damage and front end damage. The windshield was heavily scarred. The town police chief was directing traffic; he told me where to park as he was trying to keep the road open.

I parked, put on my turnout gear, grabbed my bags, and went over to the car. As I approached, I could see that there was one occupant in the passenger seat, and that the deputy chief had already arrived and was in the back seat of the car holding c-spine precautions. The driver was stable and pretty well off considering that the accident appeared to be a rollover; she was complaining of neck pain, had a nice bump on her head from where she had smacked the windshield, some kind of minimal laceration on the side of her head, and a deep but short laceration on her arm. She was not belted, though she claimed to have been at the time of the accident. There was some neurological deficit in that she was unable to remember the events preceding the accident.

At one point as I was getting some gear out of a bag that I had left fifteen or twenty feet from the car, the police chief asked me if I smelled alcohol. I hadn’t smelled anything conclusive, and whatever I had smelled I had dismissed given the hour of the day. I told him that I had not smelled anything.

With the help of the deputy and another firefighter, I got the patient collared, started on oxygen, and bandaged by the time the ambulance arrived. We got her out of the car and onto the backboard through the back door, then into the ambulance. I hopped in to observe the IV start and replace my used supplies. As I got out, one of the EMTs got out with me and asked me if I smelled any ETOH. I said that I had not; he said that he was sensitive and thought he might have. By this time, I was getting suspicious from the fact that I had heard her tell three different stories as to the last thing she could remember, where she was coming from, and if she had been belted. From the fact that she was found in the passenger seat and that the windshield starring and patch of hair was on the passenger side, I was pretty sure she had not been belted, though she told me and the other EMTs that she had been. She told the first person on the scene, the deputy fire chief, that she had not been.

After the ambulance left, I went over to check out the vehicle and look for mechanism of injury. She had hit a telephone pole, flipped completely over, and ended up in the ditch. In the car there was a paper bag with a nearly full bottle of vodka with the seal broken. One of the stories about the last thing she could remember was leaving the liquor store; that was accurate, I guess.

After a while, the wrecker arrived and took the car away. We all left.

The following day, Thursday, I was just having my first sip of my first cup of coffee of the morning, preparing to read the news, and within forty-five minutes of going to my client’s place when the tones went off again. Our FD was being called mutual aid to provide station coverage for our sister department. In English, this means that we were being asked to send a fire truck and crew to go hang out in the sister station while they fought a fire on the off-chance that something else were to happen in that part of town. I was having very mixed feelings; the sister department has a tendency (INHO) to call for too many resources. For a volunteer, it kind of sucks to go hang around someone else’s station rather than going to paid work. I was waiting to hear if anyone else signed on to go on the detail (letting me off the hook) when our department was upgraded to the scene; a biggish brush fire threatening a building. It was a windy day and the fire was being driven quickly. They needed human resources and equipment, so off I went. For a moment it looked as though I would have no coffee but the wonderful Rabid met me at the door with a travel cup.

Have I mentioned recently how much I like Rabid?

I zipped off the fire department. I drove our Engine 3 to the fire with the chief as my passenger.

For the first time ever, I was a pump operator on the scene. Conveniently, on Tuesday I had gone out and filled several swimming pools with the FD and picked up a relative lot of pumping experience. A pumper truck pump panel is a confusing array of knobs, dials, levers, gauges, and pipes. Although I had run the pump under close guidance at drills before, this was my first time running it without supervision, and my first time running it at the scene of a fire. I managed to avoid blowing it up, burning it out, or having it seize, so I did okay. I did manage to overlook one particular lever while filling the truck from a tanker but the water supply officer (the chief from one of the other agencies on scene) happened to come by and point out my error. The problem was preventing the tank from filling; conveniently I was still supplying the attack team with water from the not-yet-empty tank while figuring out my tank fill problem.

Being the pump operator means being within arm’s reach of the truck for the duration of the fire. I spent the several hours on the side of a road along with six or eight other fire trucks; there was another operational area on the other side of the fire with a similar amount of apparatus, but I never saw it or them. I never did see the fire, either; the line my truck was feeding snaked up over a hill and down the other side. From time to time, some smoke or ash would float by; at one point, I ran up to the top of the hill to make sure my line was properly charged (much radio traffic was preventing me from contacting my attack team in the usual way) and saw more smoke, and at the very end I walked up to retrieve my line and got to see the top part of the burned out five acres.

The town police chief was directing traffic and I had the chance to speak with him a few times. He has warmed up to me considerably since my first call with the FD where he yelled at me for not pulling over to let him pass; he sees me as an asset now, I think. In any event, he told me that the patient from the previous day had been tested to show a .17 blood alcohol content at the hospital.

One bad thing happened at the fire; my coffee cup fell out of Engine 3 and smashed on the ground. The cup was a gift from Amazon; back in the late 90’s I had written them to point out an obscure grammatical error on a boilerplate email they had sent me. They wrote me a thank-you note and sent me a takeout mug. Sadly, the mug is no more. Of course, the idealistic Amazon of those days is no more, either. So it goes. The good thing was that I had already finished the coffee.

Finally the fire was declared under control, a few hours of overhaul (mop-up) were performed, and we were released. I drove the truck back to the station and, with the help of other FFs, replaced the equipment on the truck and put it back in service.

I was again preparing to go to the client’s when I was again toned, this time to the town dump. The wood pile was being burned, a controlled burn, but it had gotten out of hand with the wind and was threatening to move into the woods. I spent a few hours at the dump, wetting down the wood pile as an excavator turned over the burning debris.

Thursday night I had class. Fire Fighter I has been going on since October and is thankfully nearing the end; I have class tomorrow night and Thursday and then the final exams (written and practical) are on Saturday. Thursday’s class was a four hour module on highway and street safety. It was the most sobering of all of the classes; the state instructor started with twenty minutes of police cruiser cam footage, news footage, and recorded radio traffic illustrating public safety workers being cleaned out by cars and trucks. Grisly, but it got the point across; the street is a very unsafe place to work. Make the scene as safe as possible, get the work done, and get out of there.

The class is held in the basement of a nearby full-time service; we can hear the tones from upstairs. While I was in class, my FD was toned for a medical call for one of our frequent flyers. When it rains, it pours.

Speaking of class, several weekends ago we had our ‘live burn’. We went up to the state fire school and went through the burn building several times; each time performing a different function; attack, search and rescue, ventilation, rapid intervention, rehab. The state instructors started the day by having us all come into the building and sit on the floor. They lit a fire with hay and wooden pallets as fuel, then we sat there while the place filled with smoke (we, of course, were all wearing self-contained breathing apparatus). We got to see the layering form and how the layers start high and descend. By the time the training evolutions started, the place was smoky and hot. It was a fun day, although quite tiring.

On Friday of last week, I attended some training on a report writer package at my client’s. The training was being given for their employees by the manufacturer of the software; I sat in to see how it works. It was a bit slow for me, though interesting. I had my new machine and an Ethernet connection, though, so I was able to do other things.

My new machine is spiffy; I just got a tablet PC. Okay, it’s actually a convertible; it looks like a laptop, but the screen swivels and locks back down, hiding the keyboard but leaving the digitizing screen available on the outside of the unit. It’s pretty small and does some crazy things; it will convert handwriting to text with excellent accuracy, it will do voice recognition allowing dictation into documents. It’s got two accelerometers, so you can have it do different things by shaking it. If I shake it this way, the notebook opens up; if I shake it that way, my email program opens. It is much more like a paper notebook than a laptop, though; you hold it in your lap, so it’s much less obtrusive to goof off work on than a laptop in a meeting. Microsoft has a really cool program called OneNote that leverages the tablet in really interesting ways. Among other thingts, I can have it record audio; when I make notes on the ‘page’, they are cross-referenced with the audio. I can later click on a line in my notes and the audio will jump to and start playing from that place in the recording.

Word 2003 does voice recognition on any machine, by the way. You do need to train it to your voice. Unfortunately, I have not been getting very good accuracy with the dictation function yet; I need to train it more.

Friday night, I sat down with to watch ‘I (heart) Huckabees’. With about fifteen minutes remaining, I was toned to a chest pain. Off I went. The patient had many usual symptoms; crushing substernal chest pain radiating to the back, jaw, and left arm. She was pale, she was nauseous. I got her started on oxygen, gave her a nitroglycerin, and took her history. I was rather concerned from time to time that she was going to code before the ambulance got there but she was nice enough to remain stable. Another FF had brought the AED from the fire station, though, so at least we would have been able to shock her if she had gotten worse.

On Saturday, O2 and I had plans to do something alone. It was his choice, and he decided that we should go to Rutland to the big McDonald’s Playplace (brand ‘em early, right?). We were leaving the house at the same time and O1 were leaving to run errands, so we were lucky enough to see the bear running up the driveway.

I think the idea of having bears around is pretty neat. Of course, I walk back from my office in the dead of night… Now, I have to worry about running into a bear. Sheesh.

We stopped by the fire station so that I could fill out the paperwork on the cardiac call from the night before; O2 was patient while I did so and then we went out on the apparatus floor and he got to sit in all of the trucks. Then we went to Rutland. O2 napped while I carried him around a teacher store; I picked up some Petri dishes and agar for O1. After O2 woke, we hiked over to the Playplace, had sundaes, and played in the huge tube structure. Well, O2 did; I’m too big.

Kids today have it good, let me tell you.

After McDonald’s, we walked back to the car. We were passed twice by Rutland fire trucks; all of the FFs waved to O2 which made him very happy.

We were then going to drive to Lebanon, NH, to go to an electronics store there. As we were going through Killington, Rabid called and said that I was being toned out for downed electrical lines and where was I? I was pretty far away. You can’t make them all, right? So O2 and I continued on. We had passed the turnoff for the fastest way home when Rabid called again; she was listening to my pager. It was now a brush fire and we had been toned for a second time. The fire was in an inaccessible area and could only be reached with four-wheel-drive vehicles. They needed people.

O2 and I responded back to town with lights and sirens; about twenty miles through several towns. Rabid met me at the fire station and took O2; I changed into my brush gear (Yellow Nomex shirt, green Nomex pants, yellow hard hat) and went over to the fire.

O2 told that the ride with the siren was the most fun part of the whole day.

It turned out that a logger had dropped a tree on an electrical transmission line, igniting a fire. By the time I was on scene, there were units from five departments there and much of the initial attack was done. I helped out with the overhaul, painstakingly spraying water on every inch of my section of the burned area.

Sunday morning I got up with the tones; the dispatcher said there was an eighteen-year-old female with back pain. My reaction was ‘wow, a young person’; most calls are for the elderly. I drove over to the residence, met the family at the door, and went in. I asked for the patient; they pointed to an elderly woman. Dispatch had misunderstood; not eighteen, but eight-two. The poor woman was in a lot of pain; she described her pain as ten on a scale of ten.

Later yesterday, O1, O2, and I went to Lebanon for lunch. On the way, O1 told me about how he had hooked a capacitor up to a small motor to power a vehicle he was designing, allowing him to charge the capacitor with a battery and then remove the battery for operation. I had told him about capacitors and what they are used for, but I had not helped him more than that. I’ve taken him to Radio Shack and bought him components twice; wires, light bulbs, potentiometers, LEDs, a multimeter, other odds and ends. He takes apart electronic toys and saves the pieces, too, so he has a pile of things to experiment with. I’m pleased to see that my educational strategy seems to be working; provide information, advice, and materials, and otherwise stay out of the way.

I just got a certificate from my Intermediate school; I am the second student (of eighteen or so) to complete all of the course requirements. 130 didactic hours and 71 clinical hours. My National Registry exam is scheduled for June 12. I’ve got some studying to do.