Herald correspondent Nick Delgado spent the morning with firefighter Jacob Cardona as he started his 24-hour shift at the Harker Heights Fire Department. This is the second in a series of articles on “A Day in the Life” of various Heights occupations.
Tuesday morning was cold as I drove to the Harker Heights Fire Station. All I could think was, “I sure hope I’m not working outside.” But my excitement peaked when I rang the station’s doorbell and was introduced to the C-shift Captain Cindy Hicks.
7 A.M. SHIFT TURNOVER
The crew had been there for at least half an hour before I arrived, exchanging information with personnel from the previous shift and making the usual preparations for the day.
Hicks led me into the bay area where the fire trucks and ambulances were parked to meet the rest of the team, including firefighter Jacob Cardona who I would be shadowing.
7:15 A.M. RADIO CHECK
An alarm went off, but it wasn’t for an emergency. Instead, it was the usual radio check to ensure the lines of communication work on the emergency vehicles and each firefighter’s hand-held radio. Cardona said we’d spend most of the morning inspecting the fire engine, but first we grabbed a hot cup of coffee from the break room.
7:20 A.M. ENGINE INSPECTION
“The toughest part of the job is being prepared for the worst event that could ever happen,” Cardona said. “The number one job at the fire department is prevention.”
Along those lines, we grabbed the checklist, which was very extensive, and started inspecting the fire truck.
First, we took a look at the exterior making sure there were no dents or damage to the vehicle and checking for cleanliness. Cardona said prior shifts are often good about cleaning up after themselves, but it’s always good to double check.
From here, we opened every compartment and took a look at the equipment to ensure it was accounted for and in proper working order. Cardona pointed out each item — ropes, axe, ladder belts, water cooler, traffic vests, generators, chainsaw and medical equipment — as I took note that each one was on board. He also gave me a brief on the mobile data terminal laptop and Toughbook, the computer system that keeps the emergency personnel updated with calls they respond to. Then we checked the crew’s gear, boots and masks before loading them onto the truck.
7:51 A.M. IN THE COLD
We closed up the truck’s compartments and I jumped into the passenger seat. We pulled out of the driveway to park the truck on the side of the building. Cardona hooked up one end of the hose to the fire hydrant and started pumping hundreds of gallons of water into the truck. The water quickly flooded the ground around me, and I worried about getting wet in the cold. It didn’t take too long, and before I knew it, I was climbing the ladder leading to the top of the truck.
8:05 A.M. RAISING THE LADDER
This is where I realized that a firefighter’s job is not for anyone with a fear of heights. Luckily, I am not one of those people. The ladder extended to about 75 feet, and I was amazed to see just how high a firefighter might have to climb to rescue someone or put out a fire above ground level. After ensuring the ladder worked properly, we jumped into the truck and headed back into the bay.
8:29 A.M. CLASS IN SESSION
We spent the rest of my shift getting an introduction to wildland fire behavior. Alan Dillon with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service is the trainer for the five-week course. I was there in time for day one. Throughout the course, a couple of ambulance calls came into the station, but unfortunately, my waiver didn’t allow me to ride along with the medics.
10:04 A.M. FALSE ALARM
In the middle of the class, we received a report that a fire alarm went off at Harker Heights High School. I followed a team of three other firefighters into the truck and buckled up. But as soon as the driver put the truck into drive and inched toward the street, we learned it was a false alarm. “All dressed up with no place to go,” a firefighter said. I was a bit discouraged, but glad there was no emergency at the school.
11 A.M. WRAPPING UP
Firefighters work 24-hour shifts and then take 48 hours off. I went home after just a few hours on the job, but I was there long enough for a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. I also learned some things about fire trucks and wildland fire behavior. All in all, a productive — if cold — day.