Friday, August 29, 2008


It's been over two weeks since my last post; an unexpected and unwanted hiatus. I've been working too many over time shifts at our slowest station. I'm stuck in Little Fishing Village just south of Little Beach Town with World's Longest Beach (allegedly) and I don't think they've ever heard of the internet. My company is working on getting us internet access into the station, but like all things, it will take time.

I thought that I would share some good news, though. My letter from Big Valley Fire Department arrived today and I will be advancing onto the physical ability round. I've heard through the grape vine that they've narrowed the hiring list down to 200 and are looking to hire a least half. We shall see.

As I've been stuck in Little Fishing Village, I don't have many interesting stories, but I promise I'll be back soon with some fresh material. I'm about to rotate down into the county for the next couple of weeks, so I'll have more opportunity to write and more to tell.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Angry Old Man

(Or, Why I Felt It Necessary To Break Down Your Door)

Several weeks back, I responded at three in the morning to a report of smoke coming from the roof of an apartment complex. This wasn’t anything too unusual, as this apartment complex still had several wood burning fireplaces. I took my time getting out of bed, then drove lazily into the fire station. I heard the Captain getting on the air and could hear the tiredness in his voice, trying to shake the sleep out of it.

I get about a mile from the station when the Captain gets on the air again, “3105 on scene. Heavy smoke showing, call a working fire!” He was awake now.

Oh boy! I’m thinking as my foot stomps into the gas pedal. (I keep it under control; I’m not one of those volunteers that wants to wreck his care because I was doing 90 to granny fell down. But this was a fire, and there was some quickness in my driving).

The ladder (really a quint in our case) is out the door while I’m still a few blocks from the station. I arrive and see my brother and another firefighter getting into their turnouts. I sprint into the station, clamber into my gear and make my way to the officer’s seat of the truck. The Captain has reported that there is not an all clear on the building, so we roll with the three of us.

Our assignment is to supply the ladder that arrived first. As we round the corner, our strobe lights, LEDs, and wigwags bouncing off neighboring homes and business, the entire apartment complex parking lot is obscured by smoke. We pull into the thick of it, spotting on the hydrant in the parking lot. My brother gets out to take the hydrant and set the pump, while I assist the other firefighter hand stretching supply line to the ladder across from us. We’re done in less than 2 minutes.

I can hear the sirens from the mutual aid engine in the distance. Local PD had showed up, their blue lights mixing with our red. The smoke, still rolling out from under the eaves of the roof, stings my eyes a little. The pumps and diesel engines on the trucks are spun up, providing pressure on the hose lines. The complex residents are out in the parking lot in their pajamas, wrapped up in blankets, watching us go to work. It’s this whole feeling that I love about being a firefighter.

My backup firefighter and I have pulled a second line from the ladder and we’re kneeling at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the fire apartment. A resident reports that the neighbor across from the fire apartment isn’t outside yet and the Captain has told us to conduct a search. I’ve checked the nozzle on my line, and I’ve taken my helmet off to put on my SCBA mask. I’m giving instructions to my backup firefighter when I see the crew from the mutual aid engine come barreling up—and I do mean barreling up. I have never seen a group of people scream volunteer firefighter more than these six firemen that had just bumped their way up to me.

And sure enough, as my partner and I pick up the hose line to advance up the stairs, the mutual aid company barrels their way right up them. There are now six 250-pound fireman standing on a narrow apartment stairwell, blocking my access to conduct a search. While I’m frustrated at these guys, I also have a morbid desire to see the steps collapse underneath them.

I watch as one of the firemen tries the door handle to the apartment I’m supposed to search. Finding it locked, he brings up his ax to give it a blow and knock it open. But he stops short. There seems to be a conversation going on at the top of the stairs, something animated, but I can’t make it out. The ax is passed off to another firefighter, and again I see him ready to knock open the door. Again, he hesitates, stops, and conversation ensues. What the hell? I’m thinking.

“Just get the hell out of the way!” I shout up to them.

Now, all six firemen from the mutual aid company pile into the fire apartment, mind your there’s already three other firefighters operating a hoseline in there from the first in ladder company. I signal to my partner and we make our way up the stairs. Again, checking the door knob and finding it locked, I get ready to take the door. I crouch a little, bring my shoulder in, and give the door a good solid hit.

Boom! The whole door swings violently in, splinters of the doorframe scatter across the entryway. Immediately I drop to my knees as my partner comes right up behind me. “Fire department!” I shout. There’s no smoke though, so I get to my feet, only to meet the now very angry resident of the apartment.

Here I am in full fire turnouts, plugged into my SCBA, hoseline in hand, standing next to a 70 year old man in pajamas and slippers, yelling at me for breaking down his door. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Oh darn. “Get your ass downstairs!” I hear from behind me, “all of you!” The Captain the followed the first hose team in, was shouting at my partner, the mutual aid company, and me.

Oh double darn. See, I had been told by command to conduct a search of the second floor apartment, that there was a report of the resident still inside. But, unbeknownst to my partner and I, the ladder company Captain had already made contact with the resident and made sure that he was okay. The resident had gone back to bed when I decided it would be a good idea to bash his door in.

I’m sure that it looked quite comical to those observing: myself looking confused and abashed, while being yelled at by an angry old man and a fire Captain.

So, angry old man, I do sincerely apologize for bashing in your door and ruining your night. But feel comforted that I did it in an effort to protect your life and property. I was just trying to do my job.

New Toys

I just spent the morning in training for a couple hours at headquarters. The result of which is that we are putting into service a couple new pieces of equipment and (finally) stepping into the 21st century of treatment.

We are adding the EZ-IO and the Boussignac CPAP system. Check em out. Most of us have heard of the EZ-IO, but the CPAP system is something amazing. No moving parts, no compressors or wall mount units. Just a mask, valve, and tubing.

I do have to give credit to my OppsChief for stepping up to the plate and allowing himself to be drilled by the EZ-IO. We have it all on video and it's great. Honestly, the paramedic operating the drill was way more nervous that the OppsChief.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I drove by the house this morning on the way in to work.

I’d driven by the house before, my wife and I had walked the dogs past it before, and I’d admired the landscaping before. I think I wanted a different memory than that of the house burning and those kids in the street. Scene tape is up all around and the investigation is still underway, but things are calm now.
I don’t talk about that morning to people. My wife and I don’t talk about it to each other. Other people don’t understand. I took my wife to see her podiatrist yesterday. He knew we were from Gearhart and eventually he had to ask, “so that plane crash was right where you live, huh?”

“Yeah, I was there. I don’t want to talk about it.” That was it. I don’t want to be rude to people, but I don’t want to share details either.

I’ll write about it though. I think it’s because I’m doing it on my own terms, no one is asking the questions. I’m able to share the details that I want to share and no one is pressing for anything else. That’s comforting to me.


There has been some criticism towards our local dispatch center following the plane crash and I want to stand up for them. Our south county dispatch center fields 911 calls for 3 police departments and 4 fire departments. At the time of the accident, only one dispatcher was on shift, as usual for that time of morning.

Several local people have had concerns about unanswered 911 calls after the crash, or calls that took too long to answer. The single dispatcher fielded 32 911 calls in 4 and a half minutes. The initial fire dispatch occurred 18 seconds after the second 911 call was received (the second call provided a rough location, the first apparently did not).

Per protocol, the dispatcher toned the fire department and dispatched the alarm before fielding the additional incoming 911 calls. During this 4 and a half minute time frame, the dispatcher also managed to contact her dispatch supervisor at home to request assistance in the dispatch center.

I think our dispatcher should be applauded and commended for handling such a difficult event so professionally and efficiently.


Trauma counselors from the county and Red Cross have been in the area the last few days to counsel the firemen, family, and community members. I was invited (as all responders were) to the initial counseling session Monday afternoon and all following sessions. I’ve attended trauma counseling sessions before and they’ve helped, but I think doing what I’m doing right now, writing about how I feel, does so much more for me.

Seeing my brother firefighters that morning, the sadness and solemness in their eyes, I’m so grateful to know that they are getting the counseling they need. I left the scene before the body recovery began—I had a busy morning ahead of me on shift, they needed me in at work. I know the guys that carried those three kids out, most of them have families, young kids of their own. I can see in their faces and hear in their voices how this is hurting them right now. I’m grateful to know that we’re taking care of our own right now.
After I got on shift that morning, I transported one of the survivors from the hospital to the airport to meet an air ambulance crew. She was going to the Oregon Burn Center for specialized care.

The tragic irony didn’t escape me, though. The helicopters couldn’t land at the hospital because the weather conditions were too poor. Now, this little girl whose life had been changed forever, was now going to fly to Portland in the same conditions that may have contributed to her tragedy.

I was so saddened and bothered by that notion, and I could only wonder how she felt. Or if she was even in a state to understand what had happened and what was happening to her right then.

But I felt a sense of fulfillment from being able to help her, even in the small way of transporting her from one place to another. I felt like I had done something good that morning.


I wrote before how I wished I had been wearing my turnouts that morning and not my white button down. I’m not sure that’s really true. I don’t envy the firemen that were there.

I don’t envy any of us. I am exceptionally proud of every one of them though. Every fireman there (with the exception of a handful of paid chief officers) were volunteers. And every fireman that helped to carry the last three children out volunteered to do it—volunteers of the volunteers. No one deserves my respect more right now.

The house after the fire had been knocked down.


As I drove by this morning, neighbors had set their trash cans and recycling out. Others were out walking their dogs, coffee cups in hand. Traffic on Marion had increased, as you would expect. The house is such a tragically awesome site and a large memorial has developed: flowers, candles, and balloons all along the long stone wall.

I guess it’s a sense of curiosity that brings people to the house, to leave their memorials, the same sense of curiosity that drives people to ask “what was it like?” Sometimes I feel guilty about how my emotions surround the accident. I was in the shower when the explosion occurred, I wasn’t even sure what had happened. I was only on scene for 45 minutes, didn’t taken part in suppression or recovery operations. I only assisted briefly in patient care, helping to get them packaged and transported.

Sometimes it feels like I didn’t do enough, like I didn’t have an opportunity to do enough.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Decimation and Shock

A plane crashed into a beachfront home 4 blocks from my house this morning.

I was in the shower, getting ready for work when I felt something shake the house. Initially, I thought that Boomer had knocked something over upstairs—we have thin floors and walls and little things often sound very big. But Meghan began knocking on the bathroom door when I turned the shower off and I knew something wasn’t right.

“Was there an earthquake?” she asks.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, I heard a loud bang, the house shook, and then I heard a lot of sirens.”

“Probably just a bad car wreck, then, “ I reply. We’re only a couple blocks from the highway, and right behind the Gearhart fire station. “Let me get dressed and I’ll turn the radio on.”

Half dressed in my uniform, hair still wet, and plodding out of the bathroom in my crocs, I turn my portable radio on.

“… 3148 responding to Gearhart.”

“48 from Command, come straight in to the scene. We’re gonna need your elevated stream.”

I’m a little disappointed at hearing this, I’m missing another fire because of work. “Just a big fire,” I tell my wife. “Probably some type of construction accident.” We’ve had those before, explosions, BLEVEs, and the rare natural gas leak gone boom. I tell her it’s no big deal, to go back to bed.

But I dress a little quicker now, I’m thinking I’ll swing by the fire station on the way into work and see how things are going. I’m half listening to the radio as I button up my uniform shirt. I start to hear third alarm units going on the air, engine and ladder companies coming in from the other side of the county.

Then I hear it—

“…Medcomm, Medic 4. Fire reports three burn patients. Requesting a second ambulance.”

Shit. I’m at high speed now, grabbing my boots, cell phone, work vest, and ball hat. I kiss my wife quickly and tell her I’m going to head up to the scene and lend a hand until the second unit arrives.

I drive two blocks west and park on Marion, out of the way of incoming fire and police vehicles. Three blocks down, I see flames shooting above the trees, grey-brown smoke rolling upwards, and what remains of a house, laying on its foundation.

I grab my stethoscope and head off at a dead sprint up the road. All of town is out here to see what’s going on: couples in pajamas, or early risers out walking their dogs. Police haven’t even set up a perimeter yet. I jog up to the command officer as firefighters are pulling lines around me. The ladder from 3148 is up and they’re getting ready to flow water on the flaming pile of debris.

“Joey, where do you need me?” He points another half block up where the Medic unit is parked. I see three people lying on the ground, covered up to the necks with blankets, with bystanders all around them. I see one of our company EMTs. “Who’s in charge?”

It’s one of our new paramedics that he points to, and she looks a little overwhelmed. “Michelle, what can I do to help you?” Right away she starts giving instructions. She plans on taking the first two patients—children—and the next arriving Medic unit can take the mother. She needs my help to get them packaged and loaded, but first she wants me to find out if the Air Ambulance was activated from Portland.

I phone dispatch, letting them know I’m on scene, and then check on the air unit. The dispatcher, a little ruffled sounding, copies that I’m on scene, but tells me she doesn’t know if the chopper's in the air. I let Michelle know and we begin to load our first patient, a young boy. His hair is singed, his legs are blistered, and his feet are cut. He tells me he had to jump from the roof.

He looked like the pictures from the text book: covered with soot, with blackened hair, and lips that were just starting to puff. But he was amazingly calm. He followed our directions, said please when he asked us for something and followed that with thank you. He was concerned about his family and my heart was going out to him. I sat with him while the cot was readied. I introduced myself, talked to him a little bit, tried to offer a comforting, older brother kind of smile. And when we loaded him into the unit and I told him that Michelle would take care of him, he almost cried. “You’re not coming with me?”

“No, I can’t. There’s others I need to help. But Michelle will take good care of you, I promise.”

Behind me, and all around me, more fire units are arriving on scene. An additional ladder company from further south, additional engines from north county. Additional chief units are also arriving and they start coordinating defensive operations. The primary house is destroyed, collapsed to its foundation, with heavy fire rolling from the debris pile. The fire has partially engulfed the neighboring homes, and the chiefs set to work on the exposure protection.

Above all of this though, I hear a father yelling, “there’s still three kids inside!” He’s standing over Michelle and I and the young boy. He’s crying, tearing at his hair, hysterical, and I feel for him. He was staying in another house, further down the block when the explosion occurred. He has no idea what’s going on, he’s only concerned about his family.

The scene is a mess. Neighbors had been the ones to render first aid to the three patients, getting them to lie down then covering them with cool blankets and bath towels. The neighbors stayed with each patient until they were loaded into each of the ambulances.

Our second Medic unit arrived, as well as the OppsChief. The MCI protocol was activated, in some ways because he was expecting three more patients. I helped to get Michelle loaded with the second child, then gave them the best directions to get themselves out of the scene that was quickly bogging down with fire apparatus. The second medic unit had their patient loaded and was pulling around now, too. The OppsChief wanted me to stay on scene with him, at least until a third unit arrived to provide standby coverage.

Scene tape was going up now as the Sherrifs worked to control and move the crowds back. The OppsChief and I turned our backs to them and walked towards the command post. I took the time now to really study the scene. Something big had happened here, enough to literally blow the house apart. Glass had been blown into and across the street. The roof of the garage, still completely intact, had been blown up, then landed upright. Walls had been blown out, and debris piled the center of the house. The back side of the house was obscured by smoke and steam.

I watched the firefighters work hoselines through the debris pile. The ladder pipe was raining down a gentle fog. Steam was billowing out through the burned out home next door. I listed to the radio chatter as additional companies arrived and received assignments or were told to stage. Trauma Intervention Counselors were requested to the scene for the family members. I was watching all of this, wishing I was in my fire turnouts, not by white button down, when I heard the OppsChief ask, “so the plane came in from the west?”

I interrupt. “Wait, what plane?”

The command officer looks at me, dumbfounded like I should already know this. “A plane crashed right into the house.”

Holy shit. I was shocked and in disbelief. A plane? I couldn’t figure out how this was possible. It had come in from the west, over the beach, and that didn’t make any sense. This was the only house hit in the impact, and that didn’t make any sense either.

Bystanders had reported seeing the plane come in very low, strike a tree, then crash into the house. A secondary explosion, the one the shook my house, occurred just moments after the initial impact. Upon really inspecting the scene, a plane door was leaning against a tree in the front yard.

Oh my god. Three kids are dead, and three more are critical because a plane crashed into their house.

The house was decimated like nothing I’d ever seen before. And as I looked around at the firemen on scene, really looked at them, I could see the same look of shock, horror, frustration, and sadness that I knew was on my face. Three kids dead in an instant from a plane that had crashed into their house.


I still had to go into work and the OppsChief cleared me from the scene as the third medic unit arrived. I went home, hugged and kissed my wife, cuddled my dog for a few minutes, then grabbed my day bag and headed out the door. It was going to be a busy morning.

My first assignment coming on shift was to transport one of the burn patients from the trauma hospital to the air station, and transfer them to an air ambulance crew for her trip to the burn center.

Both children had been taken to the same hospital and both were in relatively the same condition. They both had extensive first and second degree burns, both had been sedated and intubated in the ER (to protect their airways and provide for their comfort). My patient, whom I’d seen at the scene, looked far worse than when I’d last seen her. Blisters had formed all over her face, and her skin was starting to swell. Patches on her arms were sloughing off and we had to be careful as we moved her. She was transferred to my gurney, then quickly transported to the air station where the helicopter crew was waiting for us.

We turned the patient over, then returned to the ER where the nurses there told us what a fantastic job that our crews did. All the typical high-fiving and back slapping that goes on after a “good call.” But I can’t get the image of the kids’ faces out of my mind. I just can’t believe how destroyed this family is now, how such a freak accident has decimated their lives. All I want to do right now is go home and hug my wife.

This was written the evening following these events (8/4/08), however I could not post this until today. Numerous news stations covered the accident and a report can be found here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back to Testing

I took the firefigher/paramedic test for Big Valley Fire Department yesterday and I'm feeling pretty good about it. It was the FireTEAM video test by ErgoMetrics which is a terrible test to take. Very long and very cheesy. I have been on a test-taking hiatus since I got my medic last year, so I'm a little rusty at the whole testing taking process. But I'm pretty hopeful as Big Valley is giving paramedic preference this year--a first for them. I've also taken the FireTEAM test before, so I knew what I was getting into. I'll find out in mid-August how I did. Fingers crossed.