A day in the life of a Waterford Fire Fighter
Waterford Fire Fighters work 24-hour shifts on a 9-day rotation. When they speak of a workday, it is understood to be 24 hours. They work 1 day, have a day off, work another, have a day off, work yet another day, have 4 days off, and then start the rotation again. It may seem like only 2 or 3 days a week, but it is actually a 56-hour workweek. Over the course of a career, they live in the fire station approximately 7 1/2 years. They spend time on duty performing a variety of different tasks, attending training, and responding to alarms of every possible nature. A typical day as told by the fire fighters themselves is as follows:
A typical shift starts at 8 a.m. with the oncoming crew arriving at the station relieving the outgoing crew, who are usually tired and ready to go home. The first duties of the day involve checking out the trucks and all the equipment carried on the trucks. We check to be sure that everything is in good working order, that it is clean, and is stored in its proper place. Supplies are checked and restocked if necessary. Then the trucks get washed and waxed if needed. There’s nothing worse than a dirty fire truck.
After the trucks are clean and stocked, the rest of the morning is spent cleaning the station. The rescue crews head to the grocery store to buy our food for the day, and the officer-in-charge fills out the duty roster and daily log.
At any given time during the day or night, we can be called into service to respond to an emergency alarm. The rescue crew heads out the door for an automobile accident that just occurred. The crew arrives to find a person badly injured and immediately takes action. They stabilize the patient, treat their injuries and prepare them for transport to the hospital all in a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile, several engines and another rescue crew respond to a fire alarm at a business. The fire fighters ‘suit up’ in protective clothing and breathing apparatus and are ready to extinguish the fire. Time is critical at any fire; there is a lot to do and only minutes in which to do it. We all have our assigned tasks which are performed in well-organized team fashion; rescue and life-safety are always 1st priority.
Over the course of a typical shift, we handle many medical emergencies. We dispatch an engine and a rescue crew from the closest respective station. In most cases, the engineer on an engine is closer to the scene of an emergency than the rescue crews and will arrive at the scene first. All Waterford fire fighters are highly trained and experienced in emergency medicine. The engineer can begin to stabilize a patient prior to the arrival of the paramedics on the rescue truck. Once the paramedics arrive they assume medical treatment and intervene with advanced life support techniques. Our EMS program has been recognized as one of the best in Oakland County, an honor in which we take great pride. We regularly deal with people having breathing problems, heart attacks, diabetic emergencies, traumatic injuries, and seizures. We have responded to emergencies where people have drowned, been shot or stabbed, electrocuted and burned. We have delivered babies, prevented people from committing suicide and rescued people that have fallen through the ice on a frozen lake. We have responded to nearly every type of emergency.
Between calls we spend several hours training. We receive training on new medical techniques, emergency drugs and new equipment. We are also trained on fire fighting tactics, emergency scenarios, handling hazardous materials, vehicle extrication, aircraft emergencies, railroad emergencies, water rescue and stress management. Everyone is also required to attend EMS continuing education. Every 3 years we are required to renew our emergency medical licenses. This is accomplished by continuing education classes approved by the State of Michigan.
During the time we are not training or responding to alarms, we conduct fire safety inspections of local businesses. Inspections are an important function of the Department, helping business owners correct hazards that could result in a fire. We then document our findings, take notes and create floor plan drawings of the businesses we have inspected in the event of a fire.
In the evening we sit down for dinner, which is the highlight of the day. We have a kitchen in each fire station and attempt to prepare a home-cooked meal. But, our day doesn’t end here by any means. Historically, our busiest time is from 5 p.m. until midnight, and into the early morning hours on weekends. It’s not unusual for us to respond to alarms throughout the night right-up to the end of our shift at 8 a.m. We do sleep at the station when we can, hoping for a quiet night. However, It is all too common to be awakened several times a night by a loud tone followed by the voice of our dispatcher summoning us to respond to yet another emergency. Nights with only 3 - 4 hours of broken sleep are a regular part of our job.
We get up in the morning between 6:30 a.m. and 7 a.m., make our beds, sweep the floors, empty the trash and prepare the station for the oncoming crew. We finish up any reports from the night before and check the schedule for our duty assignment for the next day.
We will sometimes sit at the kitchen table and talk over a cup of coffee about the calls we had and wait for the relief crew to arrive. The paramedics will often call the hospitals for an update on patients they had from the night before. When we've been relieved of duty, we say goodbye to each other, take a deep breath or 2 and head home to our families.
This is our job. This is what we do. Ask any of us and we’ll tell you we love it. There is no other job that we’d rather do.