From the Editor’s Desk

Dennis Whittam, Editor

Can You Handle the Challenging Call?

This past month has presented the fire service with several calls that have challenged our first responders. The calls made me think about our new officers, firefighters and EMTs, who may find themselves involved with a serious call that they think they could handle. My question to you is, “Are you prepared to handle the challenging call?”

Recently, a cemetery worker in my area was killed as he was working in a trench and the sidewall of the trench collapsed, burying the worker in 18 inches of dirt. As the first arriving unit, what would you and your crew do?

Immediately, you should be thinking, “trench rescue.” Are you aware, trench walls can collapse in 1/10 of a second? When the walls collapse, the earth moves at approximately 40 mph. Guess what? You do not have a chance of getting out of its way. A single cubic foot of dirt weighs 100 pounds. A cubic yard weighs 3000 pounds. As firefighters, we must discipline ourselves to back off and wait for a technical rescue team to arrive to the scene. Sadly, the buried worker lost his life and the scene quickly became a recovery effort.

This month, there was a serious propane incident on Long Island. Two workers were refilling propane cylinders when something went wrong. The two workers were seriously burned and needed to be quickly transported to a burn unit. On Long Island, we are very lucky to have two state-of-the-art burn units. Nassau County has the Nassau University Medical Center and Suffolk County has the Burn Center at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Once you arrive on scene, would you know how to handle a seriously burned patient? I had one fire in my career that I still have thoughts about. It was one of those incidents that, when you close your eyes, you can visualize the patients uncontrollably shaking as their skin was falling off of their bodies. I was part of the ambulance crew that horrible night. Fortunately, our EMT was experienced and knew how to prepare the patient for transport to Stony Brook Medical Center.

Every year, the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center holds a recognition day. Several of the doctors talk about the newest equipment and innovations, the nurses of the unit are honored, and checks are presented to the unit from fundraisers held by our junior groups and various firematic organization. My advice to everyone — go to this event!

Finally, as firefighters, most of us feel confident that we can handle any job that comes our way. The truth is you may not be able to handle some calls as safely as you think. Please take the time to review the courses offered at your fire academy and enroll in Technical Rescue Courses and Rapid Intervention Classes. Take the time to investigate your Burn Center. Meet with the staff of well-qualified personnel and ask questions on handing a serious burn victim. Who knows, the person you save, could be a member of your own company.

– Dennis