The other night, Rosanna and I were walking through Capitol Hill after Beer && Code when we saw three crushed cars on the street next to the fire station. I took a picture, and was about to post it online and ask the internet if anyone knew what was going on when Rosanna spotted a fireman sitting outside the station and we stopped to ask him if he knew what was up with those cars.
Andy, the fireman, looked up, flashed us a friendly grin, and said, “we destroyed them!” I must have looked confused, because he continued to explain. Apparently the fire station had just hired a new recruit, and they were running training exercises to teach him how to rescue people from crashed cars. They’d tear up the car and pry open the metal to get people out.
“Wanna see the jaws of life?” he asked.
Excitedly, we said yes. He had us go around to the front of the station where he rolled up one of the big garage doors, revealing a whole fleet of shiny red firetrucks, all armed with heavy ladders and hoses and fire extinguishing equipment. He walked us into the station to the side of the longest truck (76 feet, he later said), lifted a flap on the side and pulled out a shelf of heavy duty car demolition equipment. He hefted each one out of the truck and happily explained the function of each of the tools. The tools included a heavy duty saw for cutting through the frame of a car, some sort of hydraulic tool for pulling the dashboard back when the driver is stuck between the steering wheel, and the Jaws of Life, the intimidating looking pair of pliers that’s inserted into the side of a car and splits it wide open. “Wanna hold it?” he asked, passing me the biggest power tool I’ve ever held. It was heavy but not unmanageable, weighing about the same as one of the big bags of rice from the Asian supermarkets.
We kept asking questions and Andy kept telling us more about his job, and how the fire station operated. There are always people on site, 24/7, he told us. This particular fire station serviced the are of Capitol Hill 13 blocks in all directions. He then brought us farther back into the station to show us how such a long truck could maneuver around tiny streets in Seattle. The very back of the truck had another seat with a steering wheel. He described how the back-seat driver would communicate with the front through an intercom in order to co-steer and turn around tight corners. “Climb on up!” he insisted, all the while continuing to talk about the awesome truck. The back seat felt really tall, and there was an awesome view of the ladder running all the way down the length of the truck. He also mentioned that there was a pressure sensor in the back-driver’s seat that prevents the truck from moving if it’s not engaged. This ensures that the front driver won’t drive off unless the rear driver is there as well. He joked that you’d need at least two drivers to steal a fire truck this large.
Andy then took us to the front of the truck and let us peek in as well. Besides the drivers and front passenger seats, there were four more seats directly behind them for more firemen in case of an emergency. The cab of the truck was so large that I could stand up straight and still had a lot of headroom. The front passenger seat had a mounted computer screen (which I noticed was running Microsoft Windows) for displaying 911 calls as they came in, and a map for displaying the location of all the firetrucks in Seattle.
Just as he was showing us the map, a call came in for a medic, and two more firemen came out and hopped in the medical truck to drive off. “Check it out,” Andy said, “you can see them traveling to 14th and Harrison on the map here.” The map in the ladder truck displayed a marker on the map and we could see it moving along the street as the medic truck drove off, sirens blaring.
It was such an amazing experience, getting to tour the fire station like that, and so unexpectedly. Andy was wonderful, taking care to explain all the details of his job and how things operated there. I could tell that he loves his job. He explained that he loved educating the public about all the great tools and methods they used for rescuing people from fires. I asked if there was a lot of waiting involved with the job, but he said no. His fire station alone gets 11,000 calls annually, and just for a 13 block radius!
We thanked him for his time, and left happy knowing that Capitol Hill is in good hands.