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Preparing for Extended Incidents

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A lot of the calls we respond to are short lived, maybe 30 minutes from start until we are back at the station.  Even a longer call like a structure fire is usually completed in a couple hours.  There are some instances that we are out for a long time, either on one extended call or maybe during a storm we are out for a long period responding to multiple calls.  We can prepare individually for these situations, and we can also prepare as a department.

On an individual basis, we take care of some of our personal needs.  One older firefighter on our department always kept his “goodie bag” on the engine.  In that goodie bag he had some snacks like granola bars, candy bars, and those nasty cheese and cracker things that will last in the package for decades.  We all made fun of him for that bag, but we all benefitted from that bag when we ended up on some of those long calls.  We never really restocked that stuff for him, but as long as we told him we used some of it, he was happy to refill it on his own.

I don’t know anyone else that carried food in case of an extended incident, but a lot of firefighters carry extra clothing in case they get wet or have to deal with cold weather. I never carry any extra clothes but I always carry an extra pair of gloves.  I really hate putting in wet leather firefighting gloves, and they take forever to dry.  Next on the list would be a dry pair of socks.  Wet feet are bad but if I got my boots wet, a dry pair of socks isn’t going to help unless I had an extra pair of boots with me.  An extra dry uniform and clothes at the station are a necessity.

Some departments are very progressive with being prepared for extended incidents.  Years ago we just kind of played it by ear and ordered some cheeseburgers and fries if a call lasted more than 3 hours.  That wasn’t the best food to eat but it tasted pretty good when we were hungry, and firefighters always like free food.  During one massive storm, we all were required to stay over for 5 days.  Most of that time was spent responding to calls for water in basements and electrical investigations because of flooded houses.  We didn’t have any plan in place but somehow we got everyone fed and even came up with a sleep schedule so we were all rested enough if there was any big emergency.

Today most departments have sophisticated plans for extended incidents. Not only do we plan as a department but we get together and plan as county wide task forces.  We have tents, trailers, radios, and showers all packed on trailers in case we need to travel to assist another agency.  Firefighters volunteer for these teams and keep a bag packed with their personal items so they can leave on short notice.  When a hurricane or natural disaster strikes, firefighters have spent as much as two to three weeks on the road living in camps set up with all this prearranged gear.

Extended incidents are rare but we need to be prepared.  Prepare for yourself and your crew, and make sure that your department at least has a plan to implement if you are get involved in one of these long lasting incidents.

By John Morse

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