A Cobb County firefighter climbs a ladder to the fourth story of the Public Safety training tower during a March 20 exercise.
Firefighters work a 24-hour shift, starting just before dawn.
At Station 28 in Acworth, Battalion Chief Scott Demkowski of Powder Springs finished his shift by discussing training, personnel and equipment issues with Carter as part of the daily handover. Bennett, as accountability officer, called the eight stations within Battalion 4 to see who was there and who wasn’t.
Work schedules are mapped out a year in advance. An absence can result in a change in truck seating, which the leadership uses to track where their firefighters are during a crisis. Each vehicle requires a minimum staffing to be considered mission capable.
“When you’ve got 49 people, there’s always something going on,” Carter said.
The first thing a newcomer might notice is the constant background voice of the radio dispatcher. Calls to other stations on the intercom drift past without comment. A special tone informs the firefighters if their station is the one assigned to the emergency.
Throughout the day, no matter where Carter and Bennett go to visit stations in the battalion, the radio follows with calls about alarms, injuries, car wrecks and more.
Most calls Cobb Fire and Emergency Services responded to last year were medical emergencies, with a requirement that basic life support unit be there within five minutes of being dispatched.
The next largest category of emergencies include brush fires, vehicle accidents, dealing with hazardous materials and other emergencies. Less than 1 percent of the calls were for structure fires, according to the department.
Recruits go through seven months of training before they ever ride in a truck, Bennett said. Even afterwards, preparing for the job never stops.
Bennett said firefighters must meet state and county requirements to keep their lifesaving skills fresh. For example, although a CPR certification is good for two years, Cobb firefighters have to get it renewed every year.
“It’s things you should already know, but you have to go out and practice them,” Bennett said.
That same evening, three stations gathered at the Cobb County Public Safety Training Center for mandatory night training. The exercise called for firefighters to enter the smoke-filled training tower, hook hoses into the water system and simulate putting out a fire. When the windows and doors are closed, the four-story structure’s interior is sealed in darkness, leaving firefighters to rely on their personal flashlights to make their way through.
Once responders were in the building, the mission changed and they had to find and rescue a fellow firefighter in the dark. The scenario ran several times over several hours, with rescuers having to enter by truck ladder into the top floor, the bottom floor and then having to share their air system with the “victim.”
Capt. Dwan Patterson of Dallas, who set up and led the exercise, talked with the firefighters afterwards about the successes and problems which arose during the scenarios. As a group, they discussed the importance of practicing with equipment they don’t use all the time.
“If we shortcut things, we’re not going to be prepared when things are really bad,” Patterson said.