By Cynthia Boyd and Ashlyn Parker, July 5th
Typically, you only think about the fire department when there’s an emergency. But on a calm day in Huntsville, Chief Greg Mathis took SHSU students from the LEAP Center on an informative tour of the Huntsville Fire Department.
We began our tour in the lobby of the fire station where they have a 1927 restored Huntsville fire truck on display. Chief Mathis gave us the history of the fire truck, as well as the history of some of the pictures and antique fire equipment they also had on display. Interestingly, he had a black-ball lottery device, which determined–way back in the day–whether an individual would be hired. The firemen all voted on the potential new hire, and if they voted yes, a white ball was put into the receptacle; a black ball was a no vote. A single no vote would prevent a hire–hence the term “black-balled.”
Our next stop on the tour was the Training Room. The room is designed to serve as a back-up emergency services center, if needed, and it is fully wired for electricity, backup power, wi-fi, and high-speed cable.
We also had a chance to see the residential area, and this is where many of our questions were asked. The department, including this room, is entirely ADA compliant, a television area that was very inviting, and an industrial kitchen with a hand-made dining table, where holiday dinners take place.
The area also has a dorm-like living arrangement for when the firemen need to sleep. There are bunk rooms with sliding barn doors and four closets in each room. While each fire fighter gets his/her own room for that shift, the room may be used the next night (and the next, and the next) by different firefighters, hence the need for separate closets for clothes and linens and such. It’s a great place to sleep, but even if it invites deep sleep, the firemen all awake when an alarm goes off, alerting the personnel to what might be called an emerging situation.
A typical shift is one-day on, three days off, although occasionally personnel have to work an extra 12-24 hours overtime.
While some of the dangers of being a firefighter are obvious, there are other, less obvious, threats, one of which is cancer. On the job, you get exposed to numerous cancerous chemicals, which makes firefighters roughly 15% more likely to die from cancer compared to the general population. Because of this, the fire station provides free routine cancer checks to their crew. In addition, numerous precautions are taken: the crew must leave their gear in the locker room (which is separated from the main quarters), take a shower, and generally keep contaminated items out of clean areas.
The firefighters also get access to a private gym in the fire station. This gym is supplied with equipment like a rowing machine, treadmill, and a Jacobs Ladder. A gym is provided in-house, and the crew are allowed one-hour a day “on the clock” (assuming other work in the station is not immediately needed). This helps the firefighters with both mental and physical health–the latter being particularly important for their job duties.
Of course, you can’t visit a fire station without seeing the big trucks!
We got to learn about how the firetrucks work and even got to press the siren button, although the siren doesn’t work when the truck isn’t on. Who knew?
We also got to see some of the heavy high-tech gadgets they have for opening, pushing open, or cutting pieces of metal that would otherwise remain stuck–the jaws of life.
We learned that some of us are probably capable of handling this equipment….
…and others probably aren’t….
This was one of our favorite parts of the tour, and we were grateful for our great tour guide.
We finished a fun photo in front of the firetruck with Chief Mathis, who was super generous with his time, knowledge, and our lack of knowledge on all things fireman!