Friday 20 October 2017

Everything we learned from this London firefighter's Reddit AMA

It comes two days after the devastating Grenfell Tower fire.

By Prudence Wade

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, London’s firefighters have received a lot of well-deserved praise.

It also has made many people realise there are a lot of things that they don’t fully understand about the job.

Luckily for them, one London firefighter has taken part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA).

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User Goonia said: “Events over recent days have put my profession under the spotlight. I’ve seen a lot of incorrect statements on these pages or questions being answered incorrectly.

“I wasn’t involved in the Grenfell Tower fire, I’m off duty until Saturday, but I fully expect to be sent there then. There have been a lot of misconceptions about what we are capable of or unable to do, so if you want anything clarifying I will try my best to answer.”

Here’s everything that was learned from the AMA.

Cuts to the fire service

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Reddit commenter jaredce referenced the talk about cuts to the fire service in the media and public, “but there doesn’t seem to be much mention from the fire service when pressed”. They asked: “How have cuts affected your day-to-day life? Would more money in the fire service been able to help prevent this?”

Goonia replied that it was too early to say with regards to this incident and the investigation would reveal more about this. He said: “With regards to day-to-day operations, there are now less fire stations and fire engines in London, so we are travelling further and hence longer to reach incidents. Grenfell Tower isn’t in an area that has had a local station cut as far as I know.

“The minimum numbers of people on certain types of fire engines have been lowered from five to four, so it makes that crew work harder … just to cover the need for an extra person.”

What the residents should do

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The residents of Grenfell Tower were advised to “stay put,” so Londonerrr asked: “I once had to call emergency because of a fire and was told to get out of the building. Have you ever advised people to stay inside a burning building? When is this ever good advice?”

Goonia said that in a block of flats there is usually a stairwell that runs the height of the building, so “if there is a fire on the fifth floor for example, as soon as we open the front door, the lobby, and the stairwell will fill with smoke and unburned fire gases throughout the height of the building above the fifth floor.”

This means that: “Staying in your flat is 99.9% of the time the safest thing to do.”

However, Goonia said: “If you are in a house, then getting out of the property is a lot more feasible.”

The continuing effort

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Greymutt asked: “What sort of work would you be expecting to do there on Saturday? Would you still expect there to be pockets of fire by then, or would it be more about investigation and clear up?”

Goonia replied: “Potentially helping the USAR (urban search and rescue) teams with stabilising and shoring up and making safe the building, going round with a thermal imaging camera checking for hot spots (pockets of flame and embers), clearing away equipment, assisting the fire investigation teams.”

If firefighters get scared

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Supermunch2000 was more interested in the psychology of firefighters than the practicalities. They asked: “When you see a building like that on fire, what goes through your head? From the images I saw, it looked scary as hell but, as someone actually trained to deal with these situations, what did you see and how did you read the situation?”

Goonia replied: “When I saw the images when I woke up yesterday I was staggered. This isn’t a normal occurrence in London … My heart immediately dropped because I know people I work with and friends on other shifts were there. I was extremely concerned that there would be a number of fatalities.”

However extreme the situation might be, Goonia says that as a firefighter “your training kicks in” – he says: “For me it’s a numb calmness.”

If something similar might happen

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MrGooglyman asked: “I’m in a post-war council block, what are the chances of the same thing happening?”

Goonia replied: “This was an absolutely unprecedented incident. Fires in council blocks happen on a near daily basis. Something here was very unique. I can’t speculate. But I wouldn’t be panicking about your block.”

He gave practical advice: “Check your smoke alarms, read up on the guidance in case of fire. Arrange a free home fire safety visit from the fire brigade (go to your local fire station or go onto the LFB website to arrange one).”

On unexpected things firefighters do

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Abodyweightquestion wanted to know what kinds of things firefighters do that people might not know about.

Goonia replied: “In general, it’s not just fires we deal with. Chemical incidents, people who fall under trains, car crashes, floodings, people shut in lifts, people stuck in all sorts of predicaments, parts of buildings becoming unstable (eg scaffolding in high winds), oil spillages, people who fall into rivers, lakes etc.”

Firefighter vs fireman

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When asked about what he calls himself, Goonia said: “A firefighter. They’re trying to remove the term fireman.”

And yes, in case you were wondering, Goonia has in fact rescued a cat out of a tree before, and he said “they are ungrateful sods”.

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