It all started with a simple question: “Would you like to come for a firefighter ride-along?” Hoping to impress my 3-year-old nephew Micah, I accepted Plymouth firefighter Steve Marti’s invitation to spend a 3–6 p.m. shift with the “duty crew” at Fire Station 2. For those who like me don’t speak “firefighter,” the duty crew is a paid volunteer team that’s on call from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday (Sunday and overnight hours were part of budget cuts).
Marti suggests I arrive at the station at 2:45 p.m. so I could witness what happens when the crews change shifts. My mind drifts to images of a ceremony on par with the changing of the guard in London, but what I found was basically a technical, relaxed check of equipment and switch of gear on the trucks. No pomp and circumstance here. After some brief introductions, a summary of the fire the previous duty crew had just battled and team meetings, Marti shows me one of the shiny red engines. Distracted by the dispatcher on the overhead speaker instructing various law enforcement to emergency situations throughout Hennepin County, I’m amazed at how calm everyone seems to be. Then a call comes in for us—a rollover resulting in a vehicle’s spilled juices (oil and fuel), and the team needs to do a “wash down,” a dumping of corncobs to soak up the mess.
Marti instructs me to buckle up, so I sit in the middle of the backseat facing forward. Like the rest of the crew, I put on a headset so I can clearly hear the others in the truck as well as the dispatcher. My heart races imagining the wreck I’m about to see, while firefighter Blaine Duncan calmly directs Marti to the scene. Wearing about 50-pounds of warm, protective gear, firefighter Rob Olson politely asks if I’m alright with the window down. Sweating with nerves, I’m more than OK with some fresh air.
The Plymouth Fire Department was established in 1960. "Making a difference through emergency response, customer service and community education" is the mission of the Plymouth Fire Department, whose dual-action professional fire protection and emergency management services provided by the duty crew program ensures the 1,400 calls received each year, ranging from fires to auto accidents, are dealt with by professionals to ensure all peoples safety. (The duty crew is a four person team, made up of part-time firefighters and supervised by two full-time captains.) The department personnel receive more than 7,000 combined hours of training each year, making this crew one you want to have your back in times of need.
After five minutes we head back to Station No. 2. Marti shows me the neatly packed equipment—hoses, axes and Jaws of Life—all routinely tested to ensure proper functioning in an emergency. He shows me air tanks that hold enough air for 15-30 minutes in action and explains that knowledge of math and pressure, like PSI, are very important on the job. Marti checks the sirens and lights on one of the trucks, while I blankly stared at the giant switchboard on the side of the truck.
Then, another call: A motorcycle accident on I-494. Marti maneuvers the roaring engine through crowded streets, tapping the horn at cars that don’t move out of our way fast enough. Firefighter Greg Jurek navigates to the scene (officers are always crew leaders, and other firefighters switch off between duties, positions and calls), and I find myself in the back with Duncan, Olson and rookie Eric Zappa. Nervous about what I might see at this fresh scene, my anxiety peaks as the dispatcher informs us the accident victim has a bone poking through their skin. (A few men later admit it’s usually not until later that the seriousness or graphic nature of their job sets in and they realize what they’ve just accomplished.) About 500 feet before we reached the accident, we’re called off, as an ambulance is already on-scene.
We stop at the city maintenance shop to fill up on diesel fuel (protocol dictates the truck must remain at least three-quarters full at all times, in case of back-to-back long-distance calls). Back at the station, Zappa, Jurek and Marti practice using the hose ladder. Zappa flushes the fire hydrant for a few seconds, then connects it to the hose that runs up the ladder. Zappa explains the water blasts out of the hose at a very high pressure, which is why wearing a helmet around the truck is necessary. Similar to a shower head, the water comes out in a variety of settings depending on what effect the firefighters are trying to achieve.
Surprised at just how eventful my shift has been, I ask the men (all of whom work at least one other job), what attracts them to this profession. While not all have a family history of battling fires, all seem to have helping others in their blood. Lucky for us, the men and women of the Plymouth Fire Department really care about the community they all call home. From replacing batteries in smoke detectors to programs like the ride-along with the duty crew, our local heroes are here to educate and prevent fires just as much as they are here for emergencies.
To schedule your own ride-along or if you’re interested in becoming a part-time firefighter, contact the Plymouth Fire Department at 763.509.5120.
Fun Fire Department Facts
-About 70 people make up the Plymouth Fire Department.
-Station 2 is the only one in Plymouth with a duty crew.
-Plymouth firefighters range in age from 23 to 62 years old.
-Helmet color indicates a firefighter’s seniority. The newest firefighters wear blue helmets, then graduate to black with white stripes before receiving black helmets. Red helmets signify officers.
-Firefighters flush fire hydrants for as much as 15 seconds to remove pollutants in the water before attaching hoses.
-Not every fire truck has a GPS or computer, so these men and women rely on old-school maps.
-Fewer fires in the community mean the duty crew now responds to some medical calls.