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No Rest for Weary Firefighters, Paramedics

No Rest for Weary Firefighters, Paramedics

Richard Hubble washes a fire truck at the Lancaster Fire Department's Engine House One. Every Monday each truck is washed and all supplies and tools are checked and counted for inventory. (Lindsay Niegelberg, Eagle-Gazette)

Lancaster Eagle Gazette via YellowBrix

April 06, 2010

LANCASTER, OH – As the lights in Lancaster homes are turned off, children are tucked in and adults end their busy days, most people recognize the quiet and calm of nighttime. Members of the Lancaster Fire Department, however, know that peace can be fleeting.

On many nights, medics will respond to calls throughout the entire evening. The most unpleasant nights, they say, are those when the calls are spaced just long enough for them to fall back asleep before being called to serve again.

Audible only to those used to its sound, the near-silent click of the loudspeaker system turning on awakens the experienced members of the fire department. Newer employees are blasted awake in the following seconds as tones echo through the dorm at Engine House One on East Chestnut Street.

“We’re like Pavlov’s dogs,” Dana Hiles said as he sat with several other members of Crew One at the firehouse’s main table as a Clint Eastwood movie played on television. TRAINING

Each 24-hour shift has required work for the crew on duty. Monday mornings are spent restocking the trucks and doing inventory while Fridays are reserved for cleaning the firehouse. In the middle of the week, the crews participate in a day each of medical training, fire training and touring buildings.

Their tours help them become familiar with building structure and layout so the darkness and smoke of a fire aren’t as detrimental as they would be in an unfamiliar location. In the days after a fire, the crews review what went right and wrong and work to become more efficient. They research injuries, accidents and loss of life of other firefighters in the country, many of which occur during transit to emergencies because drivers fail to move to the right, in an effort to avoid those problems in Lancaster.

They also review new construction methods like lighter frames and fewer materials. The hours of training are credited to the requirements for their regular recertifications. 24 HOURS ON

Their schedules, which result in the crews averaging more than the typical 40-hour work-week, offer some benefits and some challenges. Before their children are school-aged, being home during the day offers the crew members the chance to spend time with them. On duty days, however, child care and family emergencies can be difficult.

Craig Spiller wrote emergency instructions for his wife in the event the electricity fails.

“Go here, turn this valve off on the generator, push this button,” he said as he sat with David Comer in an office used for equipment storage and repair. Comer bought an auto-start generator for his home because the power seemed to always go out when he was working.

Once their children begin going to school during the day, Lt. Dave Medaugh said, it seems their shifts force them to lose time. Every third year the firefighters miss holidays like Christmas and, because vacation days are scheduled a year in advance and requests are granted based on seniority, last-minute events like Captain Jack Mattlin’s 30-year high school reunion, which falls on his duty day, are missed.

“It seems like every important event happens during your 24 hours,” Hiles said.

While scheduling can be difficult, firefighters say the rewards of the job far outweigh the detriments.

“You know you’re going to someone in their worst possible moment and making a difference,” Medaugh said.

Some moments remind them how deeply their work can affect community members. A couple dropped off a gift basket for each crew Thursday to thank the medics. The family’s infant, who was born in critical condition, required frequent visits from the fire department. BEHIND THE SCENES

In 2009, the Lancaster Fire Department responded to 6,151 medic calls and 1,511 fire calls. While their work is high profile, there are aspects of their publicly-funded job Lancaster Fire Department members say the community misunderstands or doesn’t see in the heat of the moment.

While the portion of their job most people see involves extinguishing fires and responding as emergency medical personnel, there is a public relations aspect of their work the crews say people rarely recognize. After the danger of a fire is removed, firefighters help victims find places to stay, educate them about how to work with insurance companies, and work to recover items from the building.

Mattlin said he remembers the first fire he responded to as a captain near Art & Clay on East Main Street. After the building was deemed unsafe and store owners were not allowed to enter or retrieve any items, firefighters entered the building one at a time to pull out antiques, books, and consignment items located near the entrance. Prescription medications and family photos are often the first things firefighters save after the fire itself has been extinguished.

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