It’s after midnight and you’re snug and warm in bed as the temperature outside plummets through the single digits, shatters the zero barrier and keeps on falling. Then you get “toned,” meaning you’ll be spending the next several hours out in the weather, perhaps all night, fighting a fire under brutal conditions and often frustrating circumstances. Incidentally, it’s very probable that you will be subjected to mist and spray coating your turnout gear with ice – and you won’t be getting any sleep that night. Oh yeah – if you get paid at all, it’s a token amount for on-call firefighters or not at all for fully volunteer firefighters.
Something like that happened last Friday morning when a call reporting a structure fire at Norwich Lake came in to the Huntington Fire Department at 12:30 a.m. At the time the temperature was a brisk five below and still falling, reaching minus seven before firefighters were able to leave the scene at 11:30 a.m.
Such temperatures make just about everything more difficult, and the area wasn’t created with firefighting in mind. There is no town water there and tanker trucks had to bring it from the Gateway complex, driving back and forth over several miles of steep road to keep the hoses operating. The house was also located on a private road, which was plowed but not sanded, making matters even more difficult for the tankers and other emergency vehicles. Another feature common to the hilltowns, propane tanks, created more difficulty when two at the rear of the house exploded, adding flames and fuel to the fire.
Huntington was not alone in responding. As always, other hilltowns pitched in, including Chester, Russell, Williamsburg and Southampton, as well as the City of Northampton, according to Huntington Fire Chief Gary Dahill. Again, we need to bear in mind that these mostly volunteers who didn’t really have to turn out under such miserable conditions to do a dangerous job for their community while staying up all night. And some weren’t finished once the fire was out, but returned to the station to spend more hours thawing out and putting away hoses and other equipment.
We should bear in mind as well that our firefighters don’t just show up at a fire knowing what to do. They must attend regular meetings and ever more demanding training sessions, pass state tests and remain available and prepared for the infrequent but inevitable call that sends them out at all hours of the day and night under all sorts of circumstances.
Frankly, it’s a wonder such a system works at all, but it does, and to a large degree makes it possible for us to live “out here”. Not only does the dedication and effort of our firefighters protect our property and lives, it makes it possible for us to obtain property insurance at more or less affordable cost (fire departments are periodically inspected and their score determines, to a large degree, our insurance rates).
These are amazing people who not only perform above and beyond the call of duty, but take on that duty voluntarily. They deserve our admiration and respect – and assistance, particularly when their associations hold events or conduct “holdups” to purchase new equipment or make improvements to their – actually our – fire stations.
(Thursday, January 10,2008)