A visit to the fire station

Last night we took the Guides to our local fire station. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages but we’ve only just got around to it and it was really good!

It’s taken a bit of organisation. Pixie – the other leader – emailed them back in September to arrange the visit and has come in every week since and said “I still haven’t heard from the fire station.” Last week, we sent the girls home with the words “we might be going to the fire station – but for now, come here next week. We’ll let your parents know if we’re going”. I couldn’t take it anymore – if you don’t get a reply to an email within a week or two, you’re not going to, so I phoned them and it turned out they’d had us in their diary all along, so I assume an email has got misplaced somewhere along the way.

WIth all this in mind, we arrived, went into the classroom for the initial Powerpoint presentation on fire causes and safety, to be told “a bit of housekeeping – there are two crews on at the moment. One is out at the moment and if the fire alarm goes off, we’ll have to go to it and umm.. you’ll have to go.” But it’s ok, the other crew would be back within about fifteen minutes, so our window of being-thrown-out was pretty small. And you’ll never guess what – ten minutes later, the fire alarm went off and with a small amount of awkwardness, the watch manager asked us to come to the lobby, only for it to be declared a false alarm and we could go back to our lesson. A month and a half of “we don’t know if we can go” followed by “we had to leave after ten minutes” was not what we’d intended. Of course, they are a working fire station and their primary duty is not to educate and entertain Guides, although it is now one of their major tasks – actual fire call-outs have dropped by 45%, although I can’t remember what the timescale is – but it means their education policies are working pretty well, I think.

Alright, our two problem Guides sat with their hands waving in the air for the entire presentation, desperate to ask questions or just announce that their uncle is a fireman, but they answered most of the questions put to them correctly. I knew our local station specialised in animal rescue but they also do water rescue and technical rope rescue as well as the usual fire and rescue stuff, so that was nice to know. They rescued two horses from a swimming pool earlier in the week and they’re evidently very proud of themselves for that. I was a bit concerned that the watch manager was scaring the Guides – it was making me nervous – but they seemed ok and if they were paying half as much attention as I was, they should have learnt quite a bit. We live in an area of abundant heathland; we’re quite accustomed to massive heathfires and why you shouldn’t ever light anything up there and I knew they spread very quickly but apparently, they can outrun Usain Bolt and are fastest uphill, so you really don’t want to be caught in it.

When the presentation was over, we went out the back to their training house – I don’t know what the proper word is. It’s a specially built structure which they fill with artificial smoke and heat. We got the Guides kitted up in blue surgical gloves (because the firepeople were concerned about them touching dirty things inside), we all hung onto a hose and in we went, into the darkness, to find and rescue casualties (great big heavy floppy dummies with convenient straps to grab them on the back of the neck – I was expecting live human volunteers) and then to make our way upstairs and spray the hose out of an upstairs window – oh, how the Guides enjoyed this bit! Back outside, we were introduced to the fire engine – a special high-clearance one with massive wheels that can tackle heaths and the like a bit better than the standard ones and then we went into the garage to try on the kit. We got our little drama princess Guide all dressed up in massive boots, trousers and jackets (“if it actually fitted her, those loops would be tight and would hold the cuffs up properly”) and the helmet and looking fantastic. The watch manager decided the balaclava was a bit dirty and smelly to put on a Guide, so he put it on himself and then he showed us the breathing apparatus and the girls all had a turn at trying to haul it off the floor.

And then we had time for a quick toilet trip while those who didn’t go lurked in the corridor and were told all about what you need to learn to become a firefighter (Maths. Four months of training which involves at least a couple of weeks of calculating hydraulics without a calculator, amongst other things), then as we were going out the door, I paused to ask about our school fires. The two leaders and half of our girls all went/go to the same school and it’s had two major fires in the last fifteen years. He wasn’t at either of them personally but there’s one guy at the station who was at both of them. We took our leave and as we crossed the “courtyard” – I don’t know any of the right words! – to go back to the marked footpath to take the girls back to the car park and their parents, the alarm went off again and I wish we’d lingered on that corner because by the time we’d got in our cars and driven back round the front, the fire engine we’d been looking at was gone and all the doors were closed and the chaos was over and finished, incredibly quickly. And it must have been slower than usual because we’d had some of the stuff out to look at and it wasn’t all in position where the last firepeople back had carefully placed it.

I would have liked the chance to sit in the fire engine but it was great to get to go in the training house and to get to see two callouts. The week after half term, we’re going to do a campfire and I imagine most of us will be thinking a little more about it than usual.