72 hours, 60 Calls, 2 Fires: Christmas Weekend as a Firefighter/Paramedic
Though never bored, Marshfield Fire & Rescue Department had an especially busy week during the Christmas holiday. Responsible not only for fire calls (of which there were two in the span of 32 hours), with the entire staff being critical care paramedics and EMT’s, they also respond to ambulance calls and assist with transports. (Read more about the department structure here.)
Here’s a look at just 72 hours in the life of a Marshfield Fire & Rescue firefighter/paramedic…
Saturday, December 23
0800 hours- Green Shift starts (comprised of 11 people, with 8 on staff today)
The morning is spent conducting regular station duties, including checking ambulances, cleaning, conducting rig checks, checking gear placement, and checking the small engines, chainsaws, jaws of life, generators, and other life saving equipment.
1400 hours – The first ambulance call of the day comes in from a local nursing home, followed closely by another call an hour later. Typically, 2-3 paramedics respond to a call, depending on the nature of the call.
Throughout the first 24 hours, there are 10 ambulance calls, with the majority happening during the night and into the morning hours. In between calls, responders have to write reports on each patient, restock the ambulance, refill it with fuel, and make sure everything is ready for the next call. This leaves little to no time for sleep on this day.
Sunday, December 24 – Christmas Eve
0800 hours – Red Shift takes over for Green Shift.
Green Shift member FF Jeni Sadauskas remains on shift, working for another firefighter so that he could be with his family on Christmas Eve. A 72-hour shift works well for her on Christmas weekend, because her daughter is spending the holiday with her father.
From Jeni: “A ‘72’ is not terribly uncommon to work on the FD. Many of the guys do here and there. It’s no big secret that I’m a single mom, so I don’t typically pick up trades that will put me on a 72. I am 100% responsible for my daughter, her school work, her volleyball schedule, dr or dentist appointments, our dog, etc. With our normal schedule of 24 hour shifts every other day, I am always asking family and friends to help with my daughter and my pup. Since my daughter is always with her dad every Christmas (a very cordial agreement between us) I am very happy to work as much as I can during that holiday time, so my broskis can be home with their families for Christmas. Being at the FD for any holiday has never felt like being ‘stuck at the office’. We are a family. We irritate each other, we pick on each other, we laugh hysterically, pull pranks, we get to know each other’s spouses/significant others, their kids, their MOST embarrassing moments of their lives. We help each other remodel houses, fix vehicles, babysit kids, we support each other. We have shift outings that include all of our families. We do charity work together. If I can’t be spending time with my daughter…there really isn’t very many other places I’d rather be.”
1000 hours – According to Sadauskas, Sunday was a “nice day,” until later in the evening when there was a fire call. There were fewer ambulance calls than the day before and the focus of the day was regular station duties.
2131 hours – The first fire call came in at 9:31pm, reported downtown above Mr. G’s Saloon. The caller reported flames emerging from the window.
MFRD responded immediately, traveling west on 4th Street and then turning north on Central Avenue.
“As soon as all the rigs were on Central, we could see smoke billowing across the road and flames coming out the window,” said Sadauskas.
Arriving on scene, Relief Lieutenant Pete Winistorfer was the acting officer in charge of the scene. Upon arrival, he called a “full alarm,” which means dispatch calls in an additional crew to restaff the station.
At that time, he also instructed dispatch to find a backup ambulance in the event a call came in during the fire. In fact, on the way to fire call, MFRD received an ambulance call. Spencer responded to the call because the crew was on scene before the station could be restaffed. The station was restaffed with 7 people, with two of those off-duty firefighters traveling downtown to help with the fire scene.
Back on the scene, the “attack crew” consisting of Bauer, Tackes, and Miller, arrived and immediately began pulling the hose while FF Meyer and FF Gilbertson connected to the hydrant.
Engineer Foth set up the engine, opened up the deck gun, and shot water into the window. The water hit the ceiling and suppressed the fire significantly before anyone even entered the burning apartment.
“His decision was phenomenal for getting that situation under control in less than 30 seconds,” said Sadauskas, who was on the ladder truck. “I don’t even think I was in park yet and there was water flowing.”
All of this happened within just a few minutes of getting the call at the station.
Sadauskas’ job on scene is ventilation, which involves opening up a window or cutting a hole in the roof to help smoke exit. In this case, the fire was so strong that it had already blown out the windows in front.
Though everyone has a role on a fire scene, no two fires are the same, so each person pitches in and helps where needed. Sadauskas worked with FF Meyer to put a ladder up to the front window of the apartment. FF Gilbertson went up the ladder with the hose and sprayed a little bit, but not too much as the first attack crew was inside working. At this time, they received a report that there was a victim inside, unresponsive. Sadauskas switched to ambulance duty.
FF Anthony Luchini and Chief Scott Owen had come in from off duty and assisted in the ambulance. Sadauskas and Luchini traveled with the patient to the ER. The concern with any fire victim is smoke and superheated gas inhalation that can close up airways. Smoke inhalation causes the majority of fire-related deaths, not burns.
2300 hours – The fire crew arrived back at the station, where the work was far from over. The next several hours were spent refilling air bottles, drying out equipment, and cleaning and restocking the engines. Fire gear is cleaned in a special machine called an “extractor,” which helps get out chemicals and other contaminants. Gear then must be air-dried, which can take a couple of days. The crew cross checks that everything is in place, clean, filled, and in proper working order.
So far that day, no one had slept.
Monday, December 25 – Christmas Day
0800 hours– Switch from Red to Green Shift. Sadauskas remained on duty and recalls that during that night, the crew was able to get a little bit of sleep before the first ambulance call came in at 0630.
The day included ambulance calls, intercepts, and other cleanup duties from the fire the night before.
Tuesday, December 26
0152 hours – The second fire call of the weekend came in at 1:52am.
Deputy Chief Jon Lucareli was in charge, with FF Lucas Frydenlund acting as the engineer.
“It was actually his first time being an engineer on a fire and he did a great job,” said Sadauskas. “He did awesome making sure that the lines weren’t freezing.”
On arrival, the crew witnessed flames blowing out the back of the house and called in another full alarm to restaff the station. The temperature was -30 degrees with windchill.
“I can’t even begin to express how horrible that was,” said Sadauskas.
At this fire, the first-in crew was Lt Brian Barnes, FF Jeff Barth, and FF Meyer. They knocked down the fire significantly, but it took a while to totally shut it down because of the cold.
FF Annen was acting as Second Engineer. He was tasked with maintaining adequate water supply to the 1st engine. He pulled a backup line to the exterior so that the crew could fight the fire defensively.
Due to the extreme temperatures, the crew battled unique challenges during this fire, including making sure the hose lines didn’t freeze.
“We had to make sure the hoses stayed cracked open when they weren’t spraying, so the water kept moving,” explained Sadauskas.
Inside, the firefighters were experiencing hot temperatures that resulted in condensation on their gear. Then when they came outside, that condensation froze all over their masks.
“They looked like ice sculptures standing there,” said Sadauskas, adding that air tanks were another challenge in the temperatures.
“Condensation around the air tank became an ice ball so we couldn’t unscrew and screw a new one on,” she said. “We were switching out packs completely until we ran out of packs. The tanks were covered in ice. Things weren’t clicking and opening the way they should because it was so cold.”
Sadauskas was on the standby ambulance with FF Tyler Hines, with their other jobs being to help catch the hydrant and relieve the first attack crew when needed.
In a repeat of the fire before, there was a victim that had inhaled some smoke and was experiencing shortness of breath.
“We did a quick assessment and got them on oxygen, sent a quick report to the hospital, flew emergent to the hospital, came back, got all geared up again, and helped put a ladder up,” said Sadauskas. “We put salt all over the road because it was slippery. Hines and I went in and did some overhaul, pulling down ceilings, spraying some water. After that, I remember just working to find air to replace the tanks with. Just making sure things aren’t freezing up.”
“Inside, we were spraying water on the fire and it’s turning into ice, but there is still hot burning wood and it’s now covered with a layer of ice,” she added. “We had to break through the ice to get to the fire again. It was just ridiculous.”
The crew worked on-scene either putting out the fire or maintaining the scene for about 2.5 hours, at which time Lucareli ordered the crew to get inside the rigs to warm up.
“There was still smoke coming out, but it wasn’t dark smoke. It was white and a very small amount,” said Sadauskas. “The crew needed to warm up. Chief Owen showed up with a box of new gloves for us to put on. Everybody was working on getting us warm.”
Once the fire was declared to be out, the scene was then broken down.
“We have to gather up all the hose, all the stuff laying around, axes, fans needs to get put away,” said Sadauskas. “We have big ventilation fans that blow in to help vent the scene. Typically, we set up one, but there was so much smoke that we set up a second one to give more volume of air to push out. Those are run on gas, so I saw Lt Brian Barnes with a gas can making sure that they didn’t run out of gas while they are ventilating.”
Back at the station, the crew had two non-emergent ambulance calls waiting. After those calls, they received another ambulance call for a diabetic emergency. While those calls were out, the on-duty crew worked to defrost all the rigs, clean everything (gear, tools, rigs, themselves), refill the air tanks, hose down the debris and soot-filled packs, and drink some coffee.
Because the extractor can only handle a few sets of gear at one time, it takes quite a while to get the gear cleaned. They will often hose down the gear and let it air dry until they take turns in the extractor.
Sadauskas noted that many workers from red shift came in early to staff the department as backup when the full alarm was called. With the work finally finished at around 7:30am, the majority of the red shift stayed on until their official shift started at 8:00am.
0800 hours- Switch from Green Shift to Red Shift. Those on Red Shift that had responded to the backup call to re-staff the department remained on-duty. After 72 hours on the job, Sadauskas went home to get some solid sleep, happy to have served the community.
“It’s important that our shifts are that long because it encourages us to become closer to each other and become more vested in our time here at work,” she explained. “If our shifts were 8 or 10 hours, you might only be half-thinking about your job. It’s important that we have these long shifts and these intense situations because it bonds us.”
“I truly believe it’s that wonderfully seamless bond that makes us so good at processing the long hours, the rough and painful conditions, dealing with death and despair, pain and frustration, sickness, psychosis, drugs, alcohol, trauma in a healthy and effective manner,” she added. “What one firefighter experiences and mitigates in one 24-hour shift on an ambulance or in a fire may equate to all the scariest moments one person might deal with for the sum of their entire life.”
“This Christmas weekend and the days to follow have been no exception. The extreme amount of ambulance calls, the significant fires and the frigid weather conditions have really been tested us as a whole, which is good. Challenges, work, pressure, chaos…that’s our bread and butter, and it’s what we love.”
There is never a dull moment in the life of a firefighter/paramedic. There were 18 ambulance calls on December 26 alone. In just one week, from 12/21-12/27, firefighter/paramedics responded to more than 80 calls, including fires, EMS, ALS intercept, vehicle accidents, chemical spills, and more…
Thank you, Marshfield Fire & Rescue!