In Case of Fire

I’ve logged my first random birthday list item for the year: touring a fire station. I always have a number of “randos” on my list = opportunities that randomly present themselves. I love the randos.

This opportunity arose through an organization I volunteer with. On Saturday morning, about 10 firefighters showed our group the six different vehicles at Cambridge Fire headquarters.

I’m still in awe 24 hours later. We were shown just about everything on the engine truck, the ladder truck, the ambulance, the dive rescue truck, the hazmat truck, and another truck whose purpose has slipped my mind.

We saw tools: different types of axes, halligans (look it up), hook tools that can tear down ceilings, some rabbit tool that can knock down a door, some jaws of life (!) , diamond-blade saws. We felt how heavy their gear is (50–100 pounds worth). We were shown a monkey suit that the divers wear and were shown where the disposable hazmat suits are stored. We were told about the different air supply packs and how the fire hose gauges work.

This particular department’s responsibilities are mind-boggling. The 250+ firefighters housed at eight stations in a six-square-mile radius are not only responsible for putting out fires, but they are also charged with handling incidents at Harvard’s and MIT’s labs, along 7.5 miles of the Charles River, AND in the subway (one of the stations is one of the deepest in the world—105 feet below ground).

One of the firefighters mentioned that a little more than half of calls are about fire; the rest are incidents such as water rescue, medical calls, etc. These brave people need to know how to respond to what seems like a million different situations.

There was much excitement when an actual call came in while we were there. Unbeknownst to me, I was standing right by the pole, and a guy swooped down about three inches from me. I hadn’t noticed the pole because the hole was covered by some plastic flaps. As the alarms sounded and the firefighters hopped into the trucks, my heart immediately started racing and all of the tour members looked at each other with widened eyes. I was relieved when the engine and ladder trucks returned in under 20 minutes.

The deputy chief also spoke a bit about the department’s role in emergency management. He and his team ensure that shelters will be ready to go when there is a big emergency, such as a hurricane. I almost cried on the spot as he went through the list of the types of trailers: He told us that after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government required cities to include pet trailers in their emergency shelter plan because so many people died from staying behind with their pets when they were told that they couldn’t bring them to the shelters.


It was a great experience that prompted me to re-learn how to use a fire extinguisher!

Cambridge Fire Headquarters
Cambridge Fire Headquarters

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