Two years ago the Mesachie Lake fire department was able to purchase a new fire truck, from a fire department in Kentucky, USA. “We allotted $80,000 to buy it, and we managed to get it for $60,000,” says Fire Chief Gary Eve.
Eve recently invited me out to see the truck and take part in the department’s weekly practice, an invitation I simply could not pass up. Volunteer Bill Bergen showed me around the fire station and the dispatch office, where he spends most of his time, and then I was suited up with pants and boots and taken outside to watch the crew learn how to use the 5 inch intake hose the new truck is equipped with.
Currently the department has 14 members, but Eve says this number fluctuates between 11 and 22. On hand that day were, Eve, Bergen, Eve’s son Ryan, the department’s secretary Liz Smith, the department’s captain Kirk Kleinke, retired fire chief Nick Sohye, Deputy Chief Dave Middlemost, training officer Casey VanDalen, Dave Berry, Brad Smith, and Owen Robertson.
I watched and took photos as the guys hauled both sections of the heavy “hard suction” hose down from the truck and hooked it up to a special intake built into the bumper. It took two to three guys to lift the hose down and properly hook it up. Eve explained to me that that “if we go through the valve on the other side (of the truck), we are limited by our water supply for the town. There is a finite amount of water that the hydrants can deliver to us. If we go with this hose and drop it in the lake, we can let the truck actually suck water instead of having water just fed to it. Being as this is a 1,500 gallon per minute pump we can increase our water heading out.”
The crew put together the hose, which is in two sections, twice while at the same time problem solving in terms of how the hose would be dropped in the lake, whether it would need a line attached to the end so that it could be hooked up to a dock, and which side of the truck made the most sense to hook up the primer hose. The primer hose feeds water from the truck to the hard suction hose to prime the pump so there is no air in the system.
When all was said and done, they figured that it took them a total of three minutes to have the system completely hooked up and ready to go.
When this part of the practice was finished, and while the guys were putting the hoses away, Eve had me don a jacket, air tank, mask, and helmet to give me an idea of the weight a fire fighter has to carry and how the positive pressure mask feels . At first the weight of the tank did not bother me that much, but after about five minutes I began to notice, and have empathy for, how difficult it would be to climb stairs and haul equipment with an extra 50 lb.
Eve explained that the positive pressure masks have to fit perfectly. They go through regular checks to ensure that each fire fighter’s mask does so. While I was there, each member was subjected to this test, a process by which their mask is hooked up to a computer while they are wearing it. The fire fighter is then taken through a series of exercises which help to determine whether the mask is faulty or not. The seal on the mask, if broken, allows smoke and/or bacteria to make its way through to the wearer. Eve said that it was fairly recently that the department was able to purchase a mask for each fire fighter.
The mask was not as uncomfortable as I expected, though Eve and a few others kept a close eye on my reaction. I definitely could see how claustrophobia could set in, especially if I was having to crawl on a floor in a dark space surrounded by thick smoke. I think that my biggest issue, in all honesty, would be the intense heat of a fire though, not the equipment itself.
As with any fire department, the people who volunteer put in a great deal of time and energy. The Mesachie Lake Fire department is one that Eve and all of the others I met that day are proud to be a part of, and I could tell that they have formed close and trusting relationships over the years. “Everyone realizes the level they have to work and train to,” he says. “I trust every one of the people here.”
Eve says they are always on the look-out for new members and that includes women. “Honestly, all you need to do is show up,” says Eve.” We will do the rest.” Practices are every Monday at 6:30, or you can phone the department and talk to anyone there at 250-749-6722.