This post is about my experience on “Shift Day” as an international trainee for the Virginia Beach Fire Department.
Watch the highlights of TRFA 156 Shift Day
Waking up in a foreign land was still pretty new to me even though I have been in the barracks of Camp Pendleton for five months. The day of June 30, 2016 was also known as Shift Day for TRFA 156. I have never been more excited than ever for an event that is not even medically oriented. This was the last the day of fire training academy and I was ready for it.
The morning started with the five of us preparing our lunch boxes. Jeff, Jonathan, Jose and Ferdz each had a certain way of doing things during breakfast. Ferdz won’t even eat. Jose will just grab tuna. Jeff and Jonathan will both race to make their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For me, I cook scrambled eggs in the freaking microwave. Good thing there was garlic powder. A Filipino donated one for us to use. Otherwise my scrambled egg will taste the same as before, like plastic.
In the land of the free, a penniless doctor like me can only afford to eat whatever is free to eat. In the fridge were some leftovers I took from previous nights’ dinners with our Filipino host families. We didn’t need to worry about dinner, one of the host families pledged to drive down the Training Center to give us dinner.
Shift day was going to be 24 hours long or so.
We left our barracks at exactly 6 am. Ferdz has a lot of morning rituals. He admits that it comes of aging. So he actually left around quarter to 7am. Jose accompanied him. Jeff, Jonathan and me arrived at the Training Center early. Recruits Padgett and Sacksteder were already in the locker rooms. They have to travel far so they also made it a point to arrive earlier than other recruits to avoid getting jammed in traffic and being late. In the history of TRFA 156, only recruit firefighter Padgett was the only one to be late and he only did it on the first day.
We grabbed snacks from the pantry and did OUR morning classroom rituals. We took each other’s blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, and we grabbed enough fluids (Gatorade and Water) to last most of the day. We then went to the back of the center to get our fire gear ready. Our bunkers were still smelly from live burn practice two days before. Jonathan’s hood and gloves weren’t. He keeps bringing those back at the barracks to put Downy in them.
The day started with Captain Probst introducing the first team of VBFD captains to the squads. Each squad will have a captain as a safety officer and as a DPO (driver-pump-operator). Each squad will be budgeting their own time to fix their schedules for lunch, dinner, and one-hour PT. Each squad will answer all calls dispatched to them. Each squad will be taking 5 written exams throughout the day. Each squad will be rotating leaders in every call.
Our first call was to assist as a ladder company in a car fire at the burn building. However, when we got there, the first due engine has already put out the fire. We were then called off back to base.
The second call was a cardiac patient which caught us by surprise. The patient was hanging on the ceiling by a harness. The history was he experienced chest pain while working on painting the ceiling so he called 911. We then proceeded to untangle the patient from his harness and place him gently on a spine board below. ALS was en route and we referred the patient via dispatch.
We were able to respond to three fire calls in the burn building throughout the day. In one of the last burns, our squad along with 4 others actually did a fire attack and three searches each. Each squad had 2 full bottle changes and we were all exhausted on that one burn. This was the last burn of the night and our squad actually went back to clean up the burn building.
At around 4 am, the dispatch called for all 6 squads to respond to a fire at the burn building. This was a surprise for our squad because we already cleaned up the burn building. As we arrive at the field fronting the burn building, there were road blocks. The field was actually lit with 16 cars on fire. Everybody was outside their fire trucks. Our squad was the RIC team so we didn’t have a fire truck and we were observing from afar.
The radios were silent and nobody was communicating. Until we heard Captain Probst on the radio “Put out this fire gentlemen.”
Each squad started to move simultaneously. Each grab an available hose from each of the fire truck. Our squad grabbed a 3 1/2 from the second fire truck near the scene. The first truck was already swamped with 2 squads grabbing hoses.
We created a garden lay to the left of the field. The wye was good enough for two hoses to get connected and Squad 2 grabbed the chance to connect to our wye. The attack went on beautifully with all the other squads grabbing a direction in the field that wasn’t occupied by another squad.
We took the fire out like a God’s hand slowly closing his fist to strangle the fire. All 16 car fires were put out minutes before my SCBA indicator went to yellow. This was a proud moment for TRFA 156. With only us and no communication, we were able to pass the test the instructors called “Beirut.”
We were told an hour after that it was meant to simulate a terrorist attack. Firefighters were dispatched and no communications were given to simulate that communications were down. We were on our own to fulfill our duty as firefighters and that is exactly what we did.
The day ended with TRFA 156 doing a small jog and as we returned we saw a pyre set up. We proceeded to do a ceremony for flags surrendered for destruction for the fire department. These were old State and US flags that are no longer fit to fly in flagposts. We took part in this ceremony and I was awed at how this US firefighters show their love for their country. The ceremony was something I have never seen in the Philippines yet.
We were then told that today was the start of each of our careers. We were now firefighters of the Virginia Beach Fire Department and we have passed their standards.
We then lined up in front of the burn building and gave their photographer the best smile we can ever give throughout the Academy. TRFA 156 fire training was now over.
I was 7th from the left at the lower row. Don’t worry you can spot me as my lower back was aching and I cannot straighten my pose.