Tuesday, April 14, 2009
in the driver's seat
It took me awhile before I got used to being an engine operator. On our department, everyone except the Captains rotate into the driver's seat. My first assignment was on an aerial truck. In the U.S. they are called ladder trucks. However you call them, they are big. And heavy. And a wee bit intimidating to drive.... especially when you're driving lights and sirens through busy traffic. Depending on the make and model, aerial trucks have a ten foot span mirror to mirror and average forty feet long. Needless to say when I got the job I was a little bit freaked out driving the rig. Fortunately my Captain and crew were really understanding and they would set up water filled drums in an obstacle course in an empty lot for me to practice navigating through. The beauty about being the driver is that, as the engine operator, you're in charge of getting the water to the supply lines. You miss out on the fun of going into the fire but at the risk of sounding cliche, it's poetry in motion getting water to where it needs to go and disproving the theory that water runs downhill when you're getting water to the top floor of a highrise. I love pumping water. Hitting the hydrant, pulling lines, listening for that perfect sound of the engine speed as it changes over, calculating pump pressure... not enough pressure means fire is not going out and too much could cause the hoseline to blow out of your crewmate's hands causing the line to snake. I have been on the end of an overpressurized line and ended up with nine staples in my head. I am grateful for my helmet that took the brunt of the impact and for not getting hit in the face or in the back of my neck.
Pumping is one part theory, one part physics and the rest is instinct developed from experience and knowing your truck like the back of your hand.
And I still can't believe that I get paid to have this much fun.