Ominous Glow: When Panic Meets Rational Thought

Have you ever had one of those moments when you thought, “great… This is it.”? I would love to say that that would be an understatement here but unfortunately it’s exactly what I was thinking. I wasn’t capable of anything more at the time. Let me set the situation up for you so you might be able to understand a little better. We got paged out to a methane compressor station fire. When we arrived on scene we found that it was one of the twenty seven compressor buildings on this particular facility. Each building contained four engines and each engine running over a cool mill. This particular facility ran 24/7 and was a major supply line so the company man on scene was eager to get the place back up and running. We had the gas to the facility shut down and began suppression operations. The crew was constantly getting in the way and putting themselves in danger in the process. We eventually had to have the police remove the crew to prevent them from being a further hindrance.

As you can imagine tension was already high on this call but suppression efforts started going our way. We contained the fire to the half of the building where the initial ignition occurred losing only two of the engines. As the initial battle started to die down, try to imagine if you can an eerie silence. The fire was out and there was a lot of heat still in the building but there was still a lot of smoke so it was black in there. I shut the nozzle down and all I can hear is my SCBA hissing from each breath and there’s nothing I can see. For now I’m just listening, trying to hear any noise. After the way this call started, this silence is unnerving to say the least. I was just starting to tell my partner that we should pull out and get the building ventilated when I hear the deafening roar. As I turn toward the sound I seen this flash of light and instead of reacting, I just pause. My mind went blank and I just sat there for a second thinking “well…. That was a good life I guess.”

It must not have been that long that I paused because my team told me I tore out of there faster than they had ever seen me move and with murder in my eyes. It didn’t take me any time to figure out what had happened and when I came out of that building I was ready to do things that are unbefitting of a firefighter, or most people for that matter. Luckily for the company man, our Chief was the one that got to him before any of us.

In this instance, the officers on scene just didn’t have the manpower to fully secure the scene. The company man had wanted to get the facility back up and running so he grabbed a couple hands and turned it on; but when he had the gas turned back on, he failed to turn the bypass on to that building. Needless to say, the entire facility was shut down immediately and everyone that wasn’t fire or police was removed from the facility. Up until this instance, scene security hadn’t been a problem. We worked with the methane companies well and they always co-operated with us without question. So to this point there was no need for certain regulations to be made.

It was a bad situation that led to some serious meetings and thought being put into our policies. More importantly, it also gave me another perspective on situations. It’s really hard to listen to a teacher telling you to be aware of the people surrounding a scene and implement it. You hear and understand the reasons but until you are put in a situation like this one, it doesn’t really sink in. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to miss things. But then something like this happens and you start taking that extra time on the way to the call to think “what if”, and the time after the calls to actually analyze what went good and what could have gone better. It’s a personal experience that most of us will have to experience firsthand to get the benefit from but it’s a good example of where panic can meet rational thought.

Peaceful Vigilance: The Art of Letting Go

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they just have to take a step back and admit that things are out of their control. For most people this is a time of dread and hardships. For me, it’s a chance to relax and watch the world go by.

This picture has meaning to me far beyond the subjects captured in it. I’ve always loved photography but it’s only in recent years that I’ve started looking at it in an artistic manner. Such as that is, I was going through my files some three or four years back when I stumbled across this image. I had forgotten that I even took it. It’s one of those images that struck me for some reason but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I decided to set it as a background so I could ponder over it whenever I was at my computer. And for all the thought I put into it, I lost my original feeling towards the pic. I did however start to connect it to loss; Loss of tactical advantage, loss of control, and just loss in general. But instead of regarding it as tragic, I used it as an inspiration to move on.
Unfortunately in my line of work, control is really an illusion. We have a job and we do our best to get it done but when it comes down to it, we’re flying by the seat of our pants. On wild land fires we do our best to predict the activity but we can’t control the weather. We watch the fuels but we can’t control the fuel moisture. We do our best to predict what is going to happen but sometimes we just can’t do that. What makes a good fire fighter is not only knowledge but also the ability to just let go sometimes. In this case there was no hope of catching it and only trees would burn up so the foreman just sat back and watched the fire run. We later caught it when it was in a better spot and no one was put at risk. It was the right choice and it inspired me.
This picture helped me to realize that I needed to apply this tactic to more parts of my life. I live in a rather small community and being as such the fires and car accidents I go on are often involving people I know/knew. Quite often, it’s people I don’t know or people I just knew of, but occasionally it’s someone that I know well. Over time, it’s something that can get to you if you let it, and I admit that it started to get to me a little. But thinking about this picture helped me to realize that these were just other situations where I lost control. I couldn’t stop that house from starting on fire or that car from rolling. The only thing I can do is my job as I was trained and the rest I just have to sit back and let the world go by.
In a perfect world, everything would go as planned and you’d never have to compromise. It seems that one of the hardest things in the world is to do nothing, to not be in control. Every aspect of our upbringing today is about controlling our individual futures. We’re brought up to believe that we have all these wonderful rights and we control our life and make it what we want. It’s a wonderful and comforting thought, but it’s a flimsy reality. The truth is that while the feeling of control is nice, our plans can be thrown off with even the simplest of events. The question is; when it happens, will you be able to cope with it, or will it destroy everything you’ve worked for?