Tuesday, June 17. 7:45 a.m. The kitchen in Fire Station No. 1, in North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley, is full of tall men in blue uniforms, as the seven firefighters on the day shift relieve the seven from night duty. They’re drinking coffee, eating muffins, getting their minds in gear for the day ahead. They have to be prepared for anything, and that starts with keeping everything in top working order.
Their first job-as is every crew’s first job-is an equipment check of the three fire engines: one with a pump; one with a pump and ladder; and one that’s used for rescues. It’s a provincial Ministry of Transportation requirement that the trucks be inspected regularly and here, the duty is rotated among the firemen who drive the vehicles. Today, the job falls to Matt Humphries. He works from a District of North Vancouver Fire Rescue Services checklist that covers all the bases: brakes, motor, oil, water, tires. The crew then goes through another checklist that covers the emergency equipment on board, including self-contained breathing apparatuses, ropes, hoses and chainsaws.
“Everything has to be ready to go. You don’t want to get to a fire and find that your chainsaw has run out of gas,” says deputy chief Tony Delmonico, a 28-year veteran.
Life at the fire station is a steady round of checking and rechecking, of maintenance and repair. Monday: Clean the kitchen. Tuesday: Dust the walls and woodwork. Wednesday: Shine windows. Thursday: Even more detailed inspection of the trucks. Friday: Inspect the hoses. Saturday: Wash the floors and parking lot. Sunday: Mow the lawn.
The firefighters take just as good care of themselves, as they have to be in top shape to deal with the physical demands of the job. Tucked in behind the fire trucks, there’s an alcove with weights, cross-trainers, bikes. They’ll use them later in the day, but they won’t go full out. “You never know,” says Delmonico. “Even at the end of the shift, you could get called to an apartment fire and have to climb 30 flights of stairs.” But beyond keeping in shape, the firefighters’ training is constant. They learn new skills and polish old ones in rope work, ladder work, swift-water rescue, hazardous-materials procedures. It all has to be easy-second nature-out in the field.
8:04:23 a.m. The first call comes in, one of about 6,300 the five fire halls in the district will get every year. There’s a motor-vehicle accident about five kilometres away. And they’re off. Quick and smooth, like a well-oiled machine. No panic. In four minutes they’re on the scene, and it’s business as usual for Fire Station No. 1.