Reporter's Notebook: Reporter experiences a day in the life of a firefighter

By: Laura Newell, Telegraph Staff Writer
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After experiencing a fire myself, I wanted to take a closer look at what goes on at the El Dorado Hills Fire Department. I spent a 12-hour day with the El Dorado Hills Station 85 B-shift and learned that they not only save lives in frightening situations, but they also help people daily through community service acts. During my recent ride-along, I went on four medical calls, ate delicious home-cooked meals and even put myself into action trying on official fire gear. I started the day off with a tour of Station 85, which includes administration offices, a conference room, workout room, kitchen and a firehouse with dorms. Then it was time for briefing at 8 a.m. with the incoming shift. I met Capt. Dave Brady, a 10-year veteran of the department, Engineer Rob Karnow, 11 years, Firefighter and Paramedic Robyn Toy, 10 years, Firefighter and Paramedic John Schureman, four years, Firefighter and Paramedic James Sommercamp, four years, and Firefighter and Paramedic Brian Lowe, four years. Crew members work 48-hour shifts with two days on and four days off during the week. So before the incoming crew starts, the outgoing crew will brief them on what happened during their shift. Toy helped me into a Self Containing Breathing Apparatus or S.C.B.A. and turnout gear — the protective jacket and clothing worn battling blazes. All of this weighs about 50 pounds. Toy said the breathing apparatus is used while on structural fires because if they breath in the hot air and chemicals in a burning building or house, it can kill them or overheat their lungs. The apparatus is also used when entering locations with excessive gases or fumes that could put firefighters in danger. I have to admit, I am not claustrophobic, and am usually able to keep my cool in emergency situations. However, I do have asthma which made me a little nervous. After Toy put the gear on me, she told me to take a deep breath and wait for her to put the mask around my face. Then I heard “breathe” and I inhaled quickly. It took a few breaths until I felt comfortable. I am amazed that they can think about all of that while fighting a fire. She said in the case of a fire, firefighters have to have their turnouts on in 60 seconds before leaving and have their tank ready in the truck to put on — luckily I was not timed. Brady said on average, most calls that come into the station are medical calls or community service calls. They can range from helping an elderly person get up after falling to severe life-threatening medical aid needs. Community service calls are also available for community members including changing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or capturing a rattle snake. “I’d like to think we don’t have a lot of fire calls because we are always working to prevent fires,” Brady said. “We are proactive with fire prevention.” The department has an annual smoke detector program every year to ensure community members have detectors in their homes. They also bring awareness to the community on how to keep their homes and land property fire safe. “We think of our citizens as our customers,” Brady said. “So the service we can provide them is customer service. We pride ourselves in our customer service. We always go out and serve the community with a smile.” Next we went for a preplanning inspection of the new Walgreens construction site in El Dorado Hills. Other stations in the department arrived for the inspection. The preplan process is important for firefighters because it allows them to inspect the facility before it’s fully built. Crews can see what material the construction is built out of to understand how it might burn if a fire occurs. It also shows them where vents can be put into the ceiling in the case of a fire and where the fire systems, sprinklers and hydrants are located. A preplan of the building is then drawn out and will be used in the case of a fire to better fight the fire – another form of fire prevention and preparedness techniques. After returning to the house for lunch, we hear “beep, beep, beep — station 85” and are off to assist in a medical call. “We have a saying around here,” said Toy as we hopped into the engine. “If you have to eat, eat now. If you have to use the bathroom, go now. It never fails you will get a call right as we sit down for a break.” After returning from a couple more medical calls, the crew began training for an emergency situation. Brady explained that a huge misconception regarding firefighters is that they sit around and relax on lounge chairs or play basketball leisurely between calls. Firefighters, he said, work throughout the day. They are working for 48 hours straight, and if they are not on an emergency call, they are practicing, working out to keep healthy, filling out paperwork after calls or sleeping. Thursday they practiced a training exercise at the station in which a car drove over the embankment along Highway 50 and a patient needed to be rescued. “The importance of training in all scenarios is to ensure that we are ready for any instance,” Brady said. “If we practice in a calm environment, we can take the time to make sure we get it right. Then this action will be second nature for us in an emergency situation because we may have to do this at 2 a.m. one day.” After one last call, removing a 16-inch rattle snake from the CSD park area, it was time for dinner. The crew gathered to cook a “family dinner” and then ate together around a table. Schureman explained crews become like family after working in such close quarters and under such intense circumstances. When I asked Brady what his favorite part of his job was, he simply said helping people. “When a customer has to call 9-1-1 because they may be having the biggest crisis of their lives and it is just out of their control, it’s nice to know that we can make a difference in their lives,” Brady said. “It’s a nice feeling to know that we have the training and understanding to mitigate many, if not all, situations. No matter the situation, from a snake to a fire, we can help make a difference.” For more information on the department or fire safety, visit