Firehouse Friday Chat – with Jack & Mack

Merry Christmas from Jack and Mack

Meet Jack, 30 years he’s been sniffing out gas leaks. Stout but upright, like a provincial midwest mayor. A face: absurdly mobile, with a mustache, almost capacious enough for the rest of it to hide in. 

Meet Mack, The couch potato in the gravy of the military. When he smiles (which is infrequent), it grimaces across his face like a crack in a septic tank

He feels it’s better to laugh back at life, since it seems determined to laugh at him!

Mack: “Happy Christmas man! It’s been a crazy year, all these people working from home!”

Jack: “Happy Christmas to you too – It’s always good to find out you’re going to be working from home…Unless you’re a firefighter!”

Mack: “I’ve started carrying a piece of stone with me to throw at people who sing Christmas songs before Thanksgiving….. It’s my jingle bell rock!”

Jack: “I said to the fire Captain, “Boss, can I have a week off around Christmas?”

He said, “It’s May.”

I said, “Sorry. May I have a week off, around Christmas?”

Mack: “Enough!  What’s the advice this week?” 

Jack: Well we’ve got to mention Covid-19 as it’s dominated 2020. We’ve actually received around less calls this year than in 2019 and I have to attribute this to the pandemic. I think probably Because less people were traveling, there were less vehicle wrecks than usual, we’ve had less wrecks to deal with.

We did have have a slight increase in structure fires this year, which could also be attributed to the pandemic and people using more electricity at home or just being home more and having accidents.

Of course during the holiday season, there is a rise in domestic calls. A dry Christmas tree can be a major fire hazard and as temperatures begin to drop more, people might break out heaters and use their fires more – Last year I went to a turn out where they were burning leftover food and packaging in their grate, instead of natural debris, they were drying clothes next to the fire and they didn’t have a screen, to top it off they had more candles burning than a Catholic Church! 

With the severe weather on the east coast those guys are going to be busy! What about you?

Mack: “Train, train and when you’ve finished training physically train your mind!” Chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attacks are some of the most hostile environments where service members may be exposed too in a combat zone, and which is why training must continue despite pandemic restrictions. We’ve also been supporting you guys , especially our reserve units and the National Guard of course.

Last week we had a virtual training session with the manufacturer of some of our kit – I’m a great believer in using SME’s instead of just relying on our own instructional skills. Our training helps maintain battle readiness by ensuring that our members are familiar and comfortable with the protective equipment so that they can safely operate in a CBRN environment, we have our guys wear kit for normal routine like watching TV – it’s important they are comfortable in it for long periods. We combine that with individual and team performance-based objectives that posture military members so that they can continue the mission while preventing exposures to the various agents.”

This weeks Question is one we’ve had asked several times – Why should I opt to be a CBRNe or Hazmat Specialist?

Mack: The remerging use of chemical weapons on the battlefield and homeland by both state and non-state actors has forced the international community to action; in addition, the threat posed by nuclear conflagration and proliferation is high. Once again, as a Corps, we are in a period of heightened awareness and sharpened interest in our area of military expertise. 

The Army CBRN Regiment is agile and adaptive—a team of over 18,000 strong across all components. This team consists of trained and ready CBRN operators and experts who provide critical capability to enable the Army to fight and win in a complex CBRN environment. 

CBRN Soldiers provide the Army CBRN reconnaissance, CBRN hazard mitigation, and CBRN expertise to ensure freedom of action and survivability at home and abroad. CBRN Soldiers support multi-domain operations in the execution of large-scale ground combat operations, providing CBRN reconnaissance platoons and CBRN staff experts in all Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) and a highly trained and ready echelon above brigade (EAB) CBRN operations force. 

CBRN forces and experts assess CBRN hazards in time and space to allow commanders to make proactive risk-based decisions, protect the force from CBRN hazards to ensure freedom of action and survivability, and mitigate the consequences of operating in CBRN hazards to preserve combat power. CBRN leaders and formations at every level endeavor to counter WMD across all domains, enable expeditionary movement and maneuver in support of large-scale ground combat operations, and defend the homeland. It’s a worthy and honorable choice and if you have an interest in chemistry and technical ability it could be the right choice.

Jack: I think more than any other skill this is a team effort and in-order to become a specialist asset it’s a long term commitment to maintain proficiency.  Hazmat is not like fighting fires. An aptitude for effective technical aptitude and problem solving ability are required. Can you cannibalize the tools at hand to fix a leak by touch alone for example? 

Hazmat allows for  a unified approach with allied agencies and many stakeholders to provide preparedness, prevention, response, mitigation and resiliency to hazardous materials emergencies. Our program is designed to address the natural, technological, or purposeful response challenges, including CBRNE threats to our community and national security. 

It’s not rocket science. Understanding hazardous materials is like learning  signs and symptoms used by EMTs. Hazmat materials may seem academic, complex and difficult to understand but chemistry the nature and chemistry of any material can be understood. Chemistry is simply a process and it’s all around us. Everything you hear, see, smell, taste, and touch involves chemistry and matter, hearing, seeing, tasting, and touching all involve intricate series of chemical reactions and interactions in your body.

So, I tell our new people that you’re doing chemistry, or something that involves chemistry, with pretty much everything you do. In everyday life, you do chemistry when you cook, when you use cleaning detergents to wipe off your counter, when you take medicine or when you dilute concentrated juice so that the taste isn’t as intense. 

 A hazardous material is any substance that poses an unreasonable risk to life, property and the environment. It is only hazardous when it is out of its container. A hazardous material can be identified by its location, its use, and the labels, placards and signs attached to it.

My department provides a robust multi-tier emergency services response to hazardous materials incidents. We train to exceed Haz Mat First Responder Operations (FRO) competencies. In  addition we become experts in mass and emergency decontamination, Rapid Extraction from hazardous environments. We cross train with the military to understand  Weapons of Mass Destruction procedures and with emergency medical services to appreciate protocols for containment and treatment and understanding of the effect of nerve agent or infectious diseases.

So if you’re looking for something different, you are a flexible, out of the box thinker. You have an interest in chemistry, utilities plumbing, wood shop skills, IT literate and a team player prepared to broaden your skills in the firm’s time and your own – then give Hazmat a shot!

“We both wish you all a safe and merry Christmas, wherever you are. Decontaminate Frequently!”