Last Wednesday at 8 a.m., the garage doors of Eugene’s Fire Station 13 flew up. A red fire engine roared out the driveway with its flashers blazing, and an onboard crew prepped for action.
This was no reason for alarm, however, because after pulling out of the driveway about five feet, the engine slowly pulled back in and had it systems checked, and all the equipment on board accounted for by the station’s oncoming crew. It was only a test, a routine done every morning by oncoming engine crews to ensure that, in the case of a real emergency, the engine company can respond appropriately.
Tests and routine checks of gear and equipment are how Fire Station 13 stays prepared to deal with any situation to which it may be called. From immediate medical responses and paramedic duties to the duties traditionally associated with firefighters, the crew at Fire Station 13 must be ready at all times.
Fire Station 13 is located near the intersection of the East 17th Avenue and Agate Street. It’s immediately across from Hayward Field and next door to the University’s ROTC program offices. Because of its close proximity to campus, it has the unique responsibility of covering an area with some of Eugene’s oldest historical buildings, while also responding to the variety of medical emergencies usually associated with some of the city’s youngest population — college students.
Capt. Ray Smith, one of three captains who operate the three engine crews assigned to the station, said 80 percent of his calls are medical in nature and often involve students. His station responded to the Gerlinger Annex fire in June, but the majority of fire alarms, like the recent spate at the EMU, are false alarms.
Earlier Thursday morning Smith relieved a crew headed by Capt. Mike Arnold. Arnold’s Tuesday was relatively uneventful, but his crew did respond to a medical call at Friendly Hall. This event wasn’t serious; nonetheless, Arnold’s crew responded to the call once notified.
“There was no one brought out on a stretcher,” Arnold said.
Smith explained the range of calls the station typically receives.
“We get a lot of alcohol poisoning, and on campus a lot of anxiety calls, and you know, they probably seem like real emergencies for them, but they’re really not that serious for us,” Smith said. “You just calm them down, get them through it and then provide whatever assistance they need.”
The station is always staffed with at least three firefighters who take a full 24-hour shift before being relieved by another crew of three the next morning at 8 a.m. They have the next two days off before going back on shift.
Eugene Fire & EMS Department spokesperson Glen Potter, said there is never an exact number of personnel stationed at any given station.
“It’s impossible to say there will always be the same number of people there,” Potter said. “People will always be going on vacation and there’ll be a need for personnel at another station and they’ll get rotated around, but we like to keep three people on a crew.”
Part of the reason for testing the operations of the station’s two fire engines is to ensure they are still in proper working condition from the previous day’s shift. This includes all of the stations’s equipment, not just the engines: defibrillators, radios, thermal imaging devices, hoses, air tanks and breathing masks. Smith estimates both of the station’s engines combined have well over a million dollars worth of investment of equipment and training behind them.
All of the medical equipment onboard the engines is also checked every morning. This is especially important because most of the calls Fire Station 13 responds to are medical in nature, and usually involving fires.
Some of the medicine and painkillers onboard have to be accounted for at all times because of their controlled substance status. Fire Station 13 also adheres to a strict code for everything to be put in its place. First responders in Lane County are required to store all medical equipment and substances in the exact same quantity and location on every engine. As a result, any and all personnel know exactly where something is when they need it.
Smith eagerly demonstrated some of the tools firefighters have at their disposal. He demonstrated a thermal imaging camera (TIC) that displays human body heat as bright white light. All of the hair on the body is invisible, but the outlines of the eyes and mouth can still clearly be seen because they give off less heat. The result is an image of a human figure that looks like a ghostly skeleton.
“If you saw that laying on the floor or something, you’d definitely know what it was. You could definitely identify the human features,” Smith said.
They also operate with customized self-contained breathing apparatuses. Theoretically these hold enough air to provide a half-hour’s worth of air to their wearer, but this may not always be the case. After a firefighter dons 40 pounds of equipment, and has to perform work that’s physically exhausting, the air supply might be substantially reduced.
Once his day is done, Smith and his crew will hand off the responsibilities of the station to the next day’s crew, and be back on the job two days later to begin their routine all over again.
Ideally, their route will be an uneventful and safe affair, but in the event it’s not, Fire Station 13 makes sure it’s overly prepared to respond to their community’s unique emergencies.