Letter Re: Fire Fighting Tools and Skills for Retreats

Dear Mr. Rawles,
Recently a fellow posted asking about firefighting options. If he wants advice about firefighting and resources to do so, he might want to look into joining his local Volunteer Fire Department (VFD).
Fire departments are the first ones (along with law enforcement) to be summoned to any natural or man-made disaster. For this reason, almost all fire departments (including the VFDs) prepare, trains themselves for disaster! 75% of the fire departments in the United States are manned by volunteers. All [of them] are always looking to add men to their rosters.
While one might think that all the local VFDs do is fight fires, they actually perform many services and have great training that would be quite useful for the average Joe.
One great advantage to being in the VFD is that you not only know what resources your municipality may have for dealing with a disaster, you know how they are going to use those resources and can make your preparations accordingly. Simply put, you know how the municipality is going to respond, so you can tailor your preparations to address at the personal level the areas where the municipalities preparations are lacking.
As far as training, pretty much everything is available: Basic First Aid, Advance First Aid, Certified First Responder, EMT-A, EMT-B, etc. All at no charge to the individual. Aside from first aid, there’s training on handling Weapons of Mass Destruction scenarios, Hazardous Materials, Mass Casualty Scenarios, Decontamination, etc. That’s in addition to firefighting training.
Many departments actually have retirement benefits even though it’s a volunteer gig; my department pays a $400 a month pension when I’m 62 if I stay active in the company for 20 years. May not sound like much, but that will pay my property and school taxes for the year! Also, after five years in the company I get a 10% break on my property taxes.
Since the departments are volunteer, a fellow can pick different jobs within the department. Not everyone is cut out physically to run into burning building or cut drunks out of car wrecks. Some folks are just drivers, some are Fire Police, others are scene support. There are different positions for different degrees of physical ability.
Another big plus is now that the Department of Homeland Security has implemented a standardized National Response Plan (NRP) and National Incident Management System (NIMS), there has been an impetus to standardize protocols between departments on things such as identification. In my company we receive county/state issued ID cards that have our name, photo, physical description and identify (in my case) the bearer as a Firefighter in the (name of town) Fire Department. On the back are the state seal and county seal. In the event of Bad Times, this ID can be a big help in getting around.
Also helpful in getting around can be the special license plates and authorized emergency vehicle lights. In a disaster when civilian traffic may be barred from the roads, such markings can be useful.
Since I’ve been in my company, I’ve learned the following things that can help my family and I in an emergency:
I know what the local municipalities disaster plans are. I know what resources are available and I know how long they will last. In short, I know how long before the refugees become a hungry mob.
At no cost to me I got credentialed as a Certified First Responder.
I learned all the ‘ins and outs’ of the county’s communication systems. I know where all the repeaters are, how much fuel they have and what frequencies all the local agencies use.
In the event of a smallpox or Avian Flu pandemic, I will be one of the first people vaccinated and will be assisting in the distribution of vaccine to others (meaning that I will make sure my family gets theirs in a timely manner!).
I persuaded my company to avail itself of Federal programs that allow for first responder agencies to purchase (for a nominal fee) surplus military equipment. Our company has pallets of MREs (ostensibly to feed the crews during wildfires), we have trailer mounted military generators (for when power to the municipality goes out and we need to power the local emergency shelter) and are currently looking at several other useful ‘dual-purpose’ items.
Probably the best thing is that I have learned how preparation pays off. It is one thing to prepare for social collapse; there are no rehearsals or try-outs. Society collapses or it doesn’t and you are prepared or you are not. In firefighting, I have learned first hand how being prepared before hand can affect things; I understand now that every night, without fail, my hat and keys go in the exact same place, that my boots, pants and shirt go in the exact same place, so that when I have 30 seconds to clear the building at zero dark thirty, I’m not frantically searching for my keys. My turnout gear is always painstakingly stowed in a very precise and careful manner so that when the call comes the 10 minutes I took to carefully stow it allows me to go from flammable to fire-proof in 60 seconds. My privately owned vehicle (POV) is parked with the radio off, electronics pre-set, etc. so that when I jump in to respond to a call and start the ignition, the tape player doesn’t come on blaring music that drowns out my fire pager leaving my in the dark about where I am headed. All little things to be sure, but tricks learned from repetitive experience.
How does this translate to preparing with my family? I have a much better understanding of how carefully thought out and meticulous planning can pay off in an emergency. – Regards, R.V.