Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Citizens Academy Visits the Fire Department

Photo by Bruce Tompkins
The Citizens Academy students had been promised lots of toys during their visit to the Punta Gorda Fire Department, and Chief Ray Briggs and his team did not disappoint.  But before we got to show and tell, we learned a lot about how the PG Fire Department operates and what sets it apart from its counterparts.  Here are some of the highlights:

--The Department gets approximately 4,000 calls/year, 70% of which are for medical emergencies. The average response time for anywhere within PG's city limits is 4 1/2 minutes.
Photo by Bruce Tompkins
--Each truck out on call has a firefighter who has been certified in advanced life support (i.e., an EMT).
--Every firefighter has to pass a swim test to join the department and will eventually become certified as a rescue diver.  All trucks have dive equipment on board.  (This capability isn't called on very frequently.)
--Land lines are better for calling 911 because your location can be tracked more accurately.
--The Fire Department operates a Red Dot program.  Citizens who register receive a magnetic pouch in which to put medical info, DNR instructions, etc. (The pouch then goes on your refrigerator.) Participants place a red dot on their front door that firefighters look for when they enter your home.  As Chief Briggs said, "It can talk if you can't."
--The Fire Department's Operation Medicine Cabinet has taken off.  Residents can drop unwanted medication in a box at the Fire Department that is almost as secure as a missile silo.  The program ensures that the medication does not get into either the water system or the wrong hands.  In the program's first year, more than a ton of drugs were dropped off for incineration.
--The Department also operates a Home-Generated Sharps Recovery Program for the safe disposal of used needles.  Both Operation Medicine Cabinet and the Sharps Recovery Program are run out of the Public Safety Building located at 1410 Tamiami Trail.
--The Fire Department's bike medic program facilitates quick response times at community events like the upcoming Wine & Jazz Festival.  (Click here to read the article I wrote last year about the program for Florida Weekly.)
--Fire Department personnel hold a CPR training course on the fourth Wednesday of each month. They will also take their show on the road to your condo association or business.
--The PG Fire Department has an Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating of three (with one being the best and ten the worst). Make sure your insurance company knows this as it might reduce your premiums!

Operations Chief Gibbs
and Chief Briggs
When we headed out to the garage, we broke into two groups.  Chief Briggs and Operations Chief Holden Gibbs showed us some of the equipment that's maintained on the fire trucks (including an automated cardiopulmonary resuscitation device and the air packs they wear when going into burning buildings). I took advantage of the opportunity to don the Chief's jacket and helmet.  The complete gear (with air pack) weighs approximately 70 pounds.
Modeling firefighter gear
(Note that I am holding the helmet here not to tip it to say hello, but to keep it on my head.  Chief Briggs' old-fashioned leather helmet weights close to 18 pounds on its own and I could barely hold up my head. Lighter weight versions are used by the rest of the team.)

Our last activity of the class was learning how to use a fire extinguisher.  Fire Marshall Jennifer Malnar taught us the acronym PASS (point, aim, squeeze and spray). A propane fire was lit in a fire pit equivalent and anyone who wanted to could use an extinguisher to put it out.  With a bit of coaching, my first -- and hopefully only -- attempt at fire fighting was successful.  I have to admit that I would have had no idea how to actually use one of the fire extinguishers in my home -- and that when I checked them later that night I can't tell if they have expired.  The Fire Department's outreach program will make a house call to check out your equipment (and change batteries in your smoke detectors), and a visit to my home is obviously in order.

It was an interesting evening that gave me a better appreciation of the scope of services provided by our Fire Department.  Chief Briggs and his team encouraged us to get the word out, particularly about their community outreach programs.  I plan to speak with my condo association about scheduling a time for Fire Department personnel to come out to Harbor Landing.  There's nothing to lose -- and potentially everything to gain.


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