Rear-facing jump seats on the older trucks — some departments may still have them in service— required us to protect the hose-person and hydrant-person with a salvage cover. It would not stop bullets, but it would protect against projectiles hurled our way. It would be secured from halfway across the roof of the cab and then over the entrance of the jump seat area. These positions on the truck did not have cab doors, so they weren’t fully enclosed.
Further preparation mandated placing all exterior-mounted tools and appliances in the compartments. This includes such items as axes, hydrant wrenches, spanner wrenches, hose clamps, double males/females, extinguishers, four-way valves, extra nozzles or any other "loose" equipment that could be removed by unscrupulous people.
Subsequently, for new apparatus purchases, we specified that all the brackets that hold the hydrant and spanner wrenches, axes, pike poles, et al be mounted inside a compartment. This way, we were always ready if a disturbance occurred. Every fire station also was issued bulletproof vests for all personnel in case we were called out for EMS in a known "trouble" area.
When events escalated to looting and structures being set on fire, we would go into our "task force" mode of operation. When the alarm came in at the station, all trucks would move together as a convoy.
One person would stay at the fire station to watch over things (watchperson). No emergency lights or sirens would be activated. The district chief would be assigned his/her own driver. Police officers armed with shotguns would ride in the officer’s position of the fire apparatus —literally in the "shotgun" position.
A task force consisted of a district chief, an ALS transport unit (rescue), two pumpers and an aerial or quint apparatus. The response sequence/convoy was in this order: 1. district chief, 2. aerial/quint, 3. first pumper, 4. second pumper, 5. rescue (ALS) unit. Upon arrival at the hydrant, all personnel assigned to the truck that was responsible to connect to the hydrant would dismount to protect the hydrant person by keeping their eyes and ears open and stay alert for any emerging situations.
If a situation escalated in the surrounding area, leading to feeling threatened, a rapid blowing of the air horn would alert the others to mount up on the apparatus in preparation to "move out" and/or "take cover." Any hose lines attached to the apparatus that couldn’t be disconnected were chopped off with an axe, near the coupling, before moving out.
Once when the task force was called to be put into operation, I recall one of our captains — the shift commander on-duty at the time — called all personnel in the station to have a meeting. He specifically said, "Do anything you can to protect yourselves. I would rather see you alive and in jail than dead." All of us made sure that we had some sort of tool that belonged to the truck next to us in case things started to get out of control.
We had several instances where tiller drivers were shot at — fortunately, they never sustained a direct hit. We also had several of our trucks sustain bullet holes in the fenders and other areas.
Needless to say, personnel need to have their senses in a "heightened" state of awareness. We still have a duty to respond in any given circumstance. Once you decided to become a civil servant in the fire service, you have to face the fact that any type of situation that presents itself can put you in harm’s way.
You may not like it, and the same probably goes for your other brothers and sisters you work with. But you need to protect and provide support to yourself and your crew. Put all past negative feelings aside. Now more than ever is when you need to get along and work as a team! Stay safe.
Originally Published in MultiBriefs, 09-2016
About the Author
Frank R. Myers is a retired lieutenant with the City of Miami (Florida) Fire Rescue, where he served for 32 years. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.com, a technology service that helps fire departments across the country automate their apparatus, equipment and inventory checks.