One of the first call-outs I attended as a qualification BA operator was to a house fire in the middle of the night. I made the first pump and we pulled up outside the apparently vacant house with smoke billowing out one of the windows.
We had donned the BA sets en route so we put our masks on outside in the fresh air and handed in our tallies to the pump operator.
Our first priority was to search the house to ensure no occupants were inside. I entered the house with BA on with another crewmember and we began our search.
We went room-by-room, looking behind doors, under beds and in closets in case the frightened victims became confused or scared and tried to shelter from the smoke. Thankfully the house was empty but it was exhilarating to carry out the job properly as I had been instructed.
An unusual job potentially requiring BA came on a Saturday morning on an orchard just on the outskirts of our town.
A young farm worker had been driving a tractor with a mower on the back cutting the grass between the orchard trees when disaster suddenly struck.
At one end of the orchard the rows of trees sloped down a small bank, which led into a pond. The worker had come out of one row of trees and turned sharply along the bank to go into the next row and got the shock of his life. The grass was wet and instead of driving into the next strip the tractor slid sideways into the pond trapping him half under the tractor.
We arrived soon after and scrambled into the pond with our BA on our backs in case we had to submerge to extract him. Fortunately he was able to hold his head above water, which prevented him from drowning.
Even luckier was the fact that the bottom of the pond was soft which cushioned the impact and prevented him from breaking any limbs. We were eventually able to pull him out safely to the waiting ambulance. Thankfully it was only his pride that was injured.
To become a certified driver and pump operator I also had to attend more courses. I had never driven a truck so the first step was obtaining a Heavy traffic, (HT) license. I was allowed to use the Fire Appliance to sit my HT license and soon had that credited to my name.
I booked into a weekend driving course at the Fire training school. There was an instructor and four volunteer fire fighters students. In the morning we had to drive an older manual Ford appliance around the city.
I was not only the youngest candidate at 18 but also clearly the least experienced. I had a few problems handling this old truck, particularly with handbrake starts, much to the crew’s amusement and the instructor’s frustrated instructions.
The afternoon involved driving an automatic International appliance. This was much easier except I had an embarrassing experience, which led to me failing the course. I had to brake suddenly and violently as I approached an intersection with a red traffic light, which was over a blind hill.
A car had stopped for a red light and I was fast approaching it. The wheels locked as I slid the machine slightly sideways with smoke issuing off the screaming tyres. The instructor gave me a filthy look and the other volunteers all chipped in their sarcastic comments, claps and laughter.
I suddenly realised that being eighteen didn’t mean I had the skill or ability to be driving these big beasts, especially at high speed. The instructor had a word with me at the end of the course and said not to bother coming back for the second day and to go get some more driving experience before returning.
Although I never went back for a drivers course I did end up attending a pump operators course and learnt how to regulate water flow, read what was happening at the end of the hose from the pressure guages, use the pump to suck water from wells, ponds or other water sources and generally how to operate the pump.