TWO RIVERS, Wis. (NBC 26) — Some of Northeast Wisconsin's fire departments aren't just working to put out a blaze.
In Two Rivers, the firefighters are tasked with anything from performing water rescues to helping those in need of medical support.
"Everyone’s a paramedic," Assistant Chief David Murack said. "Everyone’s a firefighter."
Members of the Two Rivers Fire Department wear dozens of hats on a daily basis.
"A number of smaller departments are cross-staffed, because they have to be," Murack said. "With the number of personnel that we have, we have to be able to do each others' job."
So we got a first-hand look at a day in the life.
"You’re gonna step into your boots," Captain Brandon Burke told us. "You’re gonna pull them up, zip them."
After getting dressed, we took off in the fire engine.
"All the information that goes to dispatch comes on this computer," Murack said while in the passenger seat. "And it’s what we can use to navigate as well. ... They’re doing training if we have to go out into the county. Because in the county, they don’t have hydrants in all locations. So what they do in the county is they drop these dump tanks, which are giant tanks that tanker trucks come and continuously fill."
I even had a chance to try my hand at the hose.
"Get a nice, wide base," Burke said. "Whenever you're flowing water, because this thing’s got a lot of reaction to it, it’s hard to hang onto."
Maybe the most nerve-wracking part of the day, I climbed a 105-foot ladder.
"Once you’re up at the tip, and if you’re working the vehicle or if you’re working the tip, I can transfer power to you," Burke said. "So from up there, there’s controls.
"Sometimes in your full gear, and we’re trying to hustle up this ladder, but do it as safe as possible. Because obviously there’s an emergency and this is why we’re using it. ... "Everything’s under stress, right? So you have heightened senses. You lose your fine motor skills. Now we’re in there in full gear. You got lucky.
"You could have a call that’s firefighting operations," Murack said. "You could have a call that you’re going to a nursing home for a sick patient that you’re taking to the hospital."
While we were there, the department got a similar call. It was time to switch into EMS mode.
"[A] 93-year-old female, conscious and breathing, who has fallen, is still on the ground," dispatch said over the loudspeaker.
Each day, the squad makes lunch.
"Burrito bowls," firefighter Travis Gunderson said. "Most important job of the day. Make sure everybody’s fed. … We have five shifts that we cook, and then it switches to the next person."
With a full stomach, I then prepared to tackle a simulated garage fire.
"Slip your face in there and pull that back all the way," Burke told me while I was putting on a gas mask. "Make sure it’s kind of seeded right. Now what you’re gonna do is you have straps on the bottom. Take those and pull them back."
"You guys ready to rock and roll?" he asked.
Successfully pulling out the dummy, we did some some conditioning and drills.
"That’s maybe about an eighth of what we do," Burke said.
In the span of ten minutes, I used half the oxygen in my tank. For me, it was an exhausting day. But the department says that’s just their daily grind.
"We’re working hard every day, training, educating ourselves and keeping ourselves physically fit to meet [the community's] expectations and exceed their expectations," Murack said.
According to the assistant chief, there's a long list of roles each firefighter plays at the Two Rivers Fire Department. Each member is certified to drive the engine. They're aerial operators, critical care paramedics, and everyone is certified in water rescue.
Full-timers also do fire inspections and community outreach. Three members are on the SWAT team and can carry guns operationally.