First Responders: Taking emergency action

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kristina Overton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Editors Note: This is part two of a four part series highlighting the teams that make up the first responder units.

The sound of sirens fills the air as the entourage of vehicles maneuver through traffic to their destination. Blaring lights flash violently signaling that an emergency is in progress. The signs of an emergency response are universally known. The process in how they deploy those emergency vehicles, however, involves a group of responders who individually take initiatives to resolve incidents and occurrences on the installation.

A 9-1-1 dispatcher is solely responsible for distributing vital information to the proper counterparts in the event of an emergency.

After a dispatcher receives an initial 9-1-1 call or alarm, the notification process begins to transmit the information to a responding agency. Depending on the type of emergency, dispatch will notify the appropriate vehicles who will respond. One of those key responders is the base fire department.

Though most would affiliate the job of a firefighter to be just putting out fires, the Malmstrom firefighters do quite a bit more. Aside from controlling and extinguishing fires, they also act as initial emergency medical response for the base.

"For certain emergencies, specific vehicles will dispatch from the base fire department," said Russell White, 341st Civil Engineering Squadron assistant fire chief. "We have two fire engines, a rescue truck and two command vehicles that are normally deployed to the incident. The command vehicle job is to assign duties and responsibilities to the responding crews. The fire engines, depending on the emergency, can be tasked with a variety of responsibilities to include extinguishing the fire, ventilation, and search and rescue."

Often the first to arrive on scene, firefighters will initiate patient contact and assessment while dispatch contacts an off-base ambulance. The medical response vehicle is fully equipped with all of the gear and capabilities necessary to stabilize a victim until they can be rushed to an emergency facility.

Fire protection is a process involving careful planning, constant situational awareness and a combination of teamwork with everyone involved.

"After we receive that call, there are steps we take in preparation to the actual firefighting," said Senior Airman Zachary Henry, 341st CES firefighter. "First we go to a map board, which is basically an outline of the installation, and determine where the incident is and the best possible route to get there quickly and safely. We have to consider construction, which roads are closed, which roads might have traffic and also which streets have hydrant indicators. After that we fully gear-up and drive to the scene."

Firefighting gear is comprised of layers of protective wear to include air packs, bunker pants, jackets, gloves, a nomex hood to protect the back of their neck and ears, and a helmet.

"There is definitely a state of awareness that firefighters have to maintain," Airman Henry said. "Emergency situations can change so fast and are dependent on so many factors. As a driver, I'm constantly evaluating possible scenarios and making sure that I'm aware of my surroundings. I'm responsible for my crew member's safety."

The driver of the fire engine must not only ensure the crew arrives on scene, but that they have a steady flow of water inside the building. The driver monitors the gages of water coming in from the hydrants and water leaving the actual vehicle. Fire engines have the capacity of carrying 750 gallons of water, and in the event of a big fire, that water can run out pretty quickly. Having that constant flow of water is vital to those who are risking their lives to save lives inside.

"When everyone is running away from a fire, we're the ones running into it," said Airman 1st Class Joshua Grohe, 341st CES firefighter. "The whole purpose of what we do is life safety. Our job is to ensure that victims, if there are any, are retrieved and safe, and that we minimize as much property damage as we can."

When there is a fire, the entry crew will initially do a primary search, which is a thorough but rapid look for victims located throughout the building. After which, the fire is put out, and a secondary search begins. The secondary search is another walk through to make sure they didn't miss anything such as hidden closet doors, hiding spots, or trapped or blocked locations. They also execute salvage and overhaul during this search.

"Salvage and overhaul is a search for fire extensions," Airman Grohe said. "Sometimes when a fire starts in one room, the heat can spread upward into the ceiling, attic, or rafters and reignite a fire. We look for indicators and use thermal imagining making sure that we extinguish all the fires."

Having the capabilities to respond to both medical and fire-related incidents makes the fire department another important and vital part of emergency response, and another link in the chain of events that lead to resolution of incident on the base.