Fire Station 18: Behind The Scenes

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Members of the Columbus Division of Fire do much more than fight fires.

10TV's Jerry Revish was given the opportunity to spend 21 hours at the Herbert F. Turner/South Linden Fire Station, also known as Fire Station 18.

The firefighters keep part of their gear near the firetruck and the rest inside it so they can jump into action quickly.  There are 15 seconds between when the emergency call comes in to the time they roll out of the Cleveland Avenue fire station.

Their lives are far from boring.  Engine 18 has about 3,000 runs a year.  The ambulance, known as Medic 18, average more than 4,000 runs.

"Typically, we get up at least three times after midnight.   That's a normal night," said Tom Bruno, a medic.  "So if we get up once after midnight, that's a good night."

Sleep deprivation is a constant companion. The firefighters average only four hours of sleep during their 24-hour shift, Revish reported.

The firefighters work for 24 straight hours and then get 48 hours off.  The work routine is one in which they try to adjust.

They have to eat, sleep and live at the fire station 24 hours at a time.  The Columbus Division of Fire attempts to make living in a firehouse as comfortable as possible.

Fire Station 18 is in a new, 22,000 square foot building. It has individual sleeping rooms, a fully-equipped exercise room, a TV room big flat screen and generous-sized recliners for power naps.   Perhaps the most popular space in the entire building is the kitchen.

"A good cook holds the firehouse together," said Matt Janoski, a medic.

For dinner, fireman and medic Tom Bruno made walleye and perch that he caught during a Lake Erie fishing vacation.  He added rice pilaf and string beans that were sautéed with bacon.

"Of course, you should eat healthy, but bacon is always good in everything," Bruno said.

Bruno said that a popular misconception is that firemen eat for free.  They receive no food allowance.  Everyone throws in $10 a day that covers the cost of lunch and dinner.  He said he clips coupons to make the money stretch.

If an emergency run comes in while he is cooking, Bruno said that everything must be shut off and left behind.

"You have to shut everything off and leave," Bruno said.  "Sometimes stuff gets ruined and you end up throwing it away."

The run always comes first.  A jittery computer screen on the driver's console displays the address and directions.  Sometimes it's hard to read with all the bouncing around, Revish reported.

One of the runs that occurred on Revish's watch involved a 93-year-old woman who fell inside her home.  The woman's pain became unbearable as the day went on.  Paramedics Mike Eberts and Deuce Herbert, who have more than 40 years cmoined experience, said their training allows them to quickly assess the level of the emergency.

"She's elderly and justifies a trip to the hospital," said firefighter Mike Eberts.

They transported the woman to The Ohio State University Medical Center.

"If they're a stable patient, they can choose what hospital they want to go to," Eberts said.  "(With) unstable patients, we make up our minds where we're taking them, generally the closest or most appropriate (hospital)."

As the medics pulled into The Ohio State University Medical Center, there were already several other ambulances in the Emergency Room lot wheeling in their precious human cargo.  Their work ends at the hospital where they hand the patient off to the doctors and nurses inside.

"It's very challenging to not know what you're going to go on and have to analyze the situation and come up with a way to take care of that emerging situation successfully," said Lt. M. Wechowski, the medic supervisor.

There are normally 6-8 people per unit to cover a 24-hour shift at a Columbus fire station.  Three of the units work out of Fire Station 18.  The same unit works the same days on, same days off, together, year in and year out.  Most members of Unit 1 have worked together for more than 20 years, Revish reported.

"You can never say you've seen everything because the moment you start thinking there's somebody that's going to do something to prove you wrong," said firefighter Dave Mussleman.

There is always a new problem to solve. Some of them have nothing to do with sick people. Engine 18's $500,000 state-of-the-art firetruck is just over one month old.  As with anything mechanical, something is bound to need a tweak.

The crew members prefer to perform minor fixes themselves rather than see their rig taken out of service for repair. There are other non-firefighting duties that come their way.  Since Fire Station 18 is in the heart of the Linden neighborhood, there are a high number of vacant and abandoned properties.  They can be breeding grounds for what the firemen call "urban miners," thieves who break in to the empty houses to steal the plumbing.

In one instance, police officers told the firefighters that the thief left water running freely in the basement. Fortunately it ran into a drain.

The crew tried to turn off the water at the curb, but failed so the water company will have to do that.  Sometimes the plumbing thefts put firefighters in harm's way. The urban miners have no qualms about stealing pipe from gas lines. The vandalism can leave natural gas to spew unnoticed, turning the homes into explosions waiting to happen.

The unpredictable nature of being a first responder is something that they thrive on. The dangers are always there but it never scares them.

"If you started thinking about it a lot, you wouldn't be able to do the work," Bruno said.  "We're here to do a job and that's what we think about doing.  Whether it's a sick kid, house fire or auto accident on the freeway, we know what has to be done and we go and do it."

The medics took 12 runs in their 24-hour shift.  The firetruck was on seven runs.  None of their patients died which meant they had a good day.

As Unit 1's duty drew to a close, the crew prepared to hand over the reins to the arriving Unit 2.

At precisely at 7:58 a.m., roll call took place. 

The departing crew would not have 48 hours of rest and head home to the joys of being with their families.  The tug of this extended family is never far away.

"You can't say that about many jobs, that you hate to not be here," Bruno said.

"I'd love to keep working,  but in 3 ½ years, I got to walk out of here and I'm going to be a sad puppy, because I love this job and like the people it work with," Capt. Steve Heselden said.

There is no shortage of people who want to become firefighters.  More than 3,200 people recently took the civil service test.  Of those, the department will only hire 36 to 75 recruits a year.

To the men of Engine House 18, it was the best job they have ever had.  They cannot imagine anything they would rather do for a living and our community benefits from their passion each and every day, Revish reported.