Friday, March 30, 2012

The Raid

My first fire department was the Camdenton, MO Fire Department, which is on the SW side of Lake of the Ozarks, in Camden County, MO, located in Central Missouri. I started there as a Junior Firefighter, just before my 17th birthday. When I turned 18 in 1989, I became a regular firefighter, meaning I could go inside on the fire attacks instead of doing exterior-only support operations. I learned quite a lot while I was there, from June of 1988 to November of 1995.

This story is about an event that occured in October of 1995.

In 1989, Camdenton acquired it's first ladder truck, a 1953 Seagrave. The aerial was 85 feet long, was mid-mounted, the cab was an open top (no roof) and it was fun to drive. It had a Detroit Diesel engine which sounded ABSOLUTELY AWESOME! There was a problem, however, in 1993 Seagrave told us to take it permanently out of service, as they were no longer making parts for it.

3-17 at a mutual aid fire

THIS is the fire where it PROVED Camdenton having an aerial is worth the expense...
O'Brian Lumber Yard, April, 1991. Note the Osage Beach aerial, being used as a LIGHT TOWER!
Pumping to 3-17's flypipe got the water where it was needed, NOW!
One more shot of old 3-17


Ok, so in 1994 its replacement arrived, a 1994 Sutphen mid-mount 75 foot tower. It has a 1500 GPM pump, its own water tank, its own hose, and for a quint (For the record, I generally hate quints.) it was set up pretty ergonomically, so it could be used as an attack engine or an aerial. I liked that truck.

1994 Sutphen 75ft, 1500GPM/300gal

Lake Ozark Fire had an earlier model of the same truck we were getting, so in late '93 & early '94, they put us through intense training on their aerial so that we would be already generally familiar with our new truck's capabilities. During this training period with Lake Ozark Fire, we developed quite a commraderie. It was quite an enjoyable experience, and I forever thank them for it.

Lake Ozark had adopted the Tazmanian Devil as their mascot for their ladder truck. We adopted a bulldog for ours. We even had the phrase "If You Can't Run With The Big Dogs, Stay On The Porch!" put across the front of our truck, under the windshield, in reflective lettering!

It was fun. We worked a few major fires with Lake Ozark, our trucks side by side. It was enjoyable, seeing them in theirs and us in ours, working together, seamlessly.

Well, one fine October day in 1995, I was at the station, doing reports for the chief, and decided to stretch my legs. I walked around outside for a few minutes, then back in the station, I went downstairs to the truck bay to shoot some hoops. As I was walking down the stairs, I noticed that "something" wasn't right, but I couldn't put a finger on it...

I walked around the bay, checked all the apparatus (the truck, both pumpers, and the rescue), did laps around each of them. I just KNEW something was wrong, but I couldn't place it. It was actually pissing me off.

I went back upstairs and had lunch. When I came back downstairs, walking behind the aerial truck's basket, I finally figured it out. I believe my exact words were "MUTHERF****R!"

Missing was the following:

On the back of the bucket, which hung over the back of the truck, was this sign, which was bolted to the door, so that anyone following would see it.

It was missing!

Immediately, I called the Chief. He was amazed! He had some suspects in mind, as he owned Precision Fire Apparatus, and some of those who worked for him were also Lake Ozark firemen. He figured, correctly, that our commraderie had elevated to the next level, and one of them took our dog. He told me to call the membership directly, on the phone, instead of paging it out, that there was to be a "Special Meeting" at 1730hrs at the station, and to bring our combat gear. So I did. When they asked why so early and why combat gear, I told them the dog was kidnapped and we were going to get it back. Then they were all in!

It helped that several of our members were also deputy sheriff's who were also on the tactical teams. We reported in, all dressed out in either camoflauged clothing or all black. The above mentioned deputy's helped us with face paint, so we were looking the part for a raid.

Intel gathered told us that Lake Ozark was having a meeting at their Station 1, which is where their aerial was housed, and the most likely place we'd find our dog. It also meant access to their station would be easier.

Our armorments: Each of us had a "Can" (a 2.5 gallon water fire extinguisher that is air pressurized), and one guy had a bag of dog biscuits that were the size of a football (his dog at home weighed in at a mear 155#), and his job was to bust into the meeting room, holler "BIG DOGS!!!" and throw a bucket full of biscuits into the room, at those occupying the seats at the tables. The rest of us divided into two groups, one with our biscuit bomber, the other taking another enterance. Once in, we were to proceed to their aerial truck and get our dog back. We presumed, correctly so, that their Taz (a stuffed animal that is about two feet tall with a fire helmet on its head) would be sitting on the dogs face in the cab of their aerial.

Ok, it's about 1840hrs, and we're arriving at their station. We drove in with our lights blacked out (it was dark out already at that time of year) to hopefully be stealthy. I was Team 2, and it was to enter via a back door to the truck bay. Team 1, with the biscuit bomber, was going in the main enterance. Our intel wasn't completely accurate, as the supplied combination to the back door was wrong. We didn't waste much time there, instead we ran around to the main enterance to back our brothers up.

Team 1 did EXACTLY as it was supposed to do. They entered the main door, proceeded down the hallway & busted open the door to the meeting room. The biscuit bomber did exactly as he was supposed to, he hollered out "BIG DOGS!!!" and threw a bucket load of those huge dog biscuits high into the room, and they scattered among the rooms occupants. For added effect, one of the Camdenton firemen accompanying him "opened up" with his can, adding a ten second water blast to the confusion. They then ran to the bay to carry on with the mission.

We (Team 2) arrived in the truck bay just as they rescued our dog. Simultaneously, some of the Lake Ozark firemen who had run down the back hallway to the bay were arriving, arming themselves with their garden hoses. The water war was on!

I came around the back corner of an engine to see a rookie struggling with the clamp that holds the can in place. That rookie got a soaking, and when my can ran out, I dropped it, reached up, unclamped their can, then soaked the rookie some more, with their can!

After a few minutes, it was over. Our dog was secured in Team 1's vehicle, and we were all laughing about it as we helped them clean up their truck bay.

Well, not everyone was laughing.

Remember how our intel indicated that a meeting was to take place? Well, there was a meeting alright. However, it was not a fire training meeting. Nope. It was a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Lake Ozark Fire Protection District. Elected officials who oversaw the District's financial operations, so that tax dollars weren't wasted. Also in that room were about thirty-five citizens, most of them were over the age of sixty.

Suddenly during this meeting, these clowns dressed as special operations troops barge in, hollering, throwing HUGE dog biscuits at them, and soaking them with water from an extinguisher.

Can you imagine what they were thinking?

Can you imagine what the Fire Board was thinking?

Even before our Team 1 members closed the door behind them, Lake Ozark's Fire Chief stood up, facing the Board, and started calmly speaking, saying "I suppose an explanation is in order here..." That was all our guys heard before slamming the door shut. I don't know what was said next, or by whom. What I do know is when their chief came to the truck bay (as we were cleaning up) he looked like a whipped pup. On one hand, he knew our dog was taken, and expected some sort of paybacks, and he saw the humor in the situation. On the other hand, he was the only full time paid employee at the time, and his bosses (the Fire Board) were NOT AT ALL HAPPY. I kinda felt sorry for him.

Ahhh.... good times!

So, earlier you'll note that I said the sign with our dog was bolted on to our bucket. It is now rivited in place, as the picture shows. Not that it can't be taken, but it requires more work then simply turning a wrench.

Thanks for reading.

Stay safe and God Bless!


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Forcing Entry...

About a month and a half ago, I posted HERE about a good day at work. Part of that involved forcing entry into a business that had a fire burning inside. I don't want to brag, but we done good. There was almost ZERO time lost for the store and the folks who work there. I was the guy who actually forced the door.
This morning around 0300 we handled a fire at local business; it was in a big "box store" type building. Came in as an alarm, also as a burglar alarm, police en route.

As we arrived, police officers on scene walk up to us reporting smoke inside. We drove a 360 and saw smoke through a couple windows, nothing heavy, looked like fog. Stopped at the truck entrance and got out. The captain decided this is where we're making entry.

The FF grabbed a halligan bar, and I got my Lil' Rex (as found HERE ). Door is a power sliding door, aluminum frame, with glass, typical of many commercial doors. It has a mortise lock, with an extended cylinder that has a protective sleeve. The captain called for a K-Tool, but, as it turns out, that wouldn't have worked, as the cylinder sticks out too far. However, locks like this are exactly what the Lil' Rex is for!

I used the halligan bar to tamp the Lil' Rex over the lock cylinder. Once it started to bite, I then let go and gave it a few good whacks with the halligan bar. Then, I put the spike in, pried up, and POOF! the cylinder popped out. Then I used the end of the key tool to trip the lock, thus unlocking the door. Total damage caused by entry ops: one mortise lock assembly. Not much compared to a door.

(Imho, one inherent problem with the Lil' Rex is the adjunct tool design - you insert the spike of a halligan bar to pry. Works great as long as you can pry up (or whatever direction you tamped the tool into the lock), but sometimes a little side to side motion is needed to help loosen the lock cylinder. I have seen pictures and videos of modified Lil' Rex tools where they remove the spike sleeve and weld on a slot for the adze, like what it's on the K-Tool and R-Tool. I have found that if you really whack the Lil' Rex in place, like I did tonight, this helps it get a better, tighter, more secure bite on the lock cylinder, and reduces the need for side to side rocking. However, it means you will likely need another tool to remove the lock cylinder out of the Lil' Rex's teeth!)
I stopped in to that business a few weeks after the fire to pick up some supplies for a project I'm working on at home. While I don't normally use the contractor's entrance, I chose to, specifically because that is the door we forced. I wanted to see what they had done to fix the door since the fire.

They did exactly what one would expect, they put a new mortise assembly in the door and went on, business as usual. I, for one, am very glad to hear that they suffered little, in a situation that could have been an economic disaster for hundreds of folks who are employed there, their families, and the trickledown effect to the community in general. The exterior damage done from forcing the lock off was putting those two verticle scratches on the door. Very minor cosmetic damage that most people wouldn't notice, if it wasn't pointed out to them. If someone really cared about it, a sander could easily buff the scratches out.

Here is a picture of the door that I took when I was there a few weeks ago:

I think the circular scratches their repairman did while screwing in the new lock cylinder kinda compliment my scratches! ;^)

What I would like to point out is the total forcible entry operation took less than a minute, closer to 35 seconds. The only other alternative for forcing that door would have been to smash the glass out, which IS 100% effective.

However, other issues would have been created. When we opened the doors (sliding glass doors in aluminum framework), we had an opening large enough to drive an engine into if we wanted to, and perhaps the tower truck, too, if we could get the angles right. Another benefit - we could close the door in a hurry if needed -- ie: once we opened the doors, the fire suddenly took off, growing larger than our response could presently handle, etc. If we would have smashed the glass out, we wouldn't be able to control the door any longer.

Another disadvantage, well, take a look at the picture above. Go ahead, I'll wait... did you look? Good. Welcome back.

Did you see them? I'm refering to the aluminum cross bars that go to the left in the picture. Those are very difficult and time consuming (as well as energy consuming) to remove. Could personnel wiggle through? Absolutely, but why would you want to? It is awkward, and inherently dangerous. If you have to escape in a hurry, they'll do nothing to help your cause. Could you climb over the top bar? Sure, but again, why would you want to? It is at my hip level, and I'm 6' 1". Yes, we could get over it, BUT it would be awkward in full gear and dangerous. No sense injuring your leg for nothing, you know?

Am I against conventional forcible entry? No, not at all. What I am for is using the right techniques for the situation.

So anyway, I said what I wanted to say. Keep other methods and back-up plans ready, and work smarter, not harder. Popping the lock itself saved us, the fire companies, valuable time and effort to access the fire. Popping the lock itself saved the business tens of thousands of dollars in damage, damage that in my opinion wouldn't have been totally needed.

Thanks for reading, and God bless.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Link to FSW article on searching at fires

Excellent article on searching at fires.