Ride along with the ‘Pride of Silverdale’

Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter Charlie Bratcher crawls on his hands and knees as he leads firefighters through a drill to help train them how to find their way out of a smoke-filled building by following a fire hose. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter Charlie Bratcher crawls on his hands and knees as he leads firefighters through a drill to help train them how to find their way out of a smoke-filled building by following a fire hose.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The life of a firefighter is more than big engines, water hoses and sirens. CKFR’s Station 51 on Silverdale Way, dubbed the “Pride of Silverdale,” is one of the busiest fire stations in the department. Station 51’s A shift arrived at work July 12 ready for a busy day.

Day-to-day life

The seven firefighters on shift arrive at the station between 7 and 7:30 a.m. The number of calls varies from day to day, so they never know what to expect, according to Capt. David Stebor.

“Some days we’ll have four or five, other days we’ll have 10, 12, 15 in 24 hours,” Stebor said. “The coffee’s always on.”

CKFR firefighters don’t work everyday, but when they are on shift, they stay busy with emergency calls, training and various tasks around the fire station. Stebor used to work in the construction field and enjoys the work schedule.

“I don’t know what it’s like to work everyday now,” Stebor said with a smile.

Stebor has been a firefighter for 15 years and enjoys serving the Silverdale community.

“Serving the community, helping out people,” Stebor said. “It’s turned out to be a pretty nice profession.”

Firefighters start their day with rig checks. They check the fire engine, medic unit and advanced life support (ALS) unit to make sure the proper equipment, their personal gear and other necessary items are on each rig. When a call is dispatched, firefighters don’t have time to search for what they need, so they make sure all the necessary equipment is ready to go.

A Mobile Computer Terminal (MCT) was installed about a year ago on every CKFR career rig. The MCT is a touch screen computer that tells firefighters the address and important information about the call, such as the location of fire hydrants.

“Even going to the call I know a couple things,” said firefighter/paramedic Mark Johnson. “It’s all things I can think about on the way.”

The MCT also has GPS and Internet. It will constantly adjust as the rig gets closer and closer to its destination. In the event the MCT fails, each rig has maps and a radio onboard.

“We always have maps and a radio so we can always get where we need to go,” Johnson explained. “Short of our vehicle breaking down, there’s no way you’re going to keep us from getting there.”

Fire pre-plans also are stored in the MCT. Firefighters travel to businesses and buildings to map out pre-plans. The plans show an interior view of a building, fire hydrant locations, electrical and water shutoffs and fire alarm control panels. The pre-plans are useful tools when responding to a call at that building.

Duties at the fire station include restocking the rigs after calls, typing handwritten reports into the computer and cleaning the station. Firefighters serve as their own janitorial crew and cooks, preparing meals in the station’s kitchen throughout the shift.

“We’ll all sit down together at dinner time,” Stebor said.

The crew discusses who will cook dinner beforehand and shops for food when not on a call or completing tasks at the station. Johnson said each firefighter cooks a meal and the selection of the chef for the day is difficult.

“We all say ‘1,2,3 not it’ and that works fairly well,” Johnson said jokingly.

Constantly training

Station 51 firefighters had a shift meeting to discuss the training exercise of the day and other information. The drill for the day involved firefighters finding their way out of a building by following the water hoses. The female end of the hose leads out of the building, while the male end points toward the fire. Firefighters worked in teams to feel their way along the hose and find their way out.

“We black out their masks and feel which way is out,” Johnson said. “They go in the direction of the female end and find their way out.”

In the real situation, firefighters must deal with loss of sight and loud noises, so to simulate the conditions, firefighters blacked out their masks and cranked up the stereo in the apparatus bay.

“Diesels running outside, fans running, smoke detectors going off, it’s kind of hard to simulate that so we just turn on some rock ‘n’ roll,” Stebor said with a smile.

The firefighters never let go of the hose and constantly tapped one another to make sure their peers didn’t get lost.

“He will never let go of that hose,” Johnson said. “They’re making sure that they’re staying on their hose. We need to count on each other in these situations.”

Going on calls

Station 51 firefighters received their first call of the day in the morning. They jumped in the fire engine and ALS unit to assist an 84-year-old Crista Shores resident who sustained injuries from a fall.

Firefighters quickly arrived on-scene and assisted the woman. They transported her to Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale. Crista Shores has 911 information cards on the back of residents’ doors which contain pertinent information in case of emergencies.

“Crista Shores does that for us,” Johnson said. “We just open it up and it’s there for us. That makes the family feel more comfortable and helps the process if they’re hurt or injured again.”

CKFR typically sends two units to every call so there are at least four people on-scene to provide extra assistance. Although the fire engine was not required at the Crista Shores call, they still responded and provided additional support.

“Most of the time we’ll go anyway, it’s better to have two units there,” Johnson said.

Shortly after the shift meeting, they received another call, this time to Silverdale Medical Center regarding a 74-year-old woman with low blood pressure. Firefighter/paramedic Matt Porter obtained important information from the nurse and transported the patient to Harrison Medical Center.

“The perfect shift when you don’t get any calls, it just doesn’t happen,” Stebor said.

The fire engine was then dispatched to a small oil spill in the parking lot of Quizno’s in Silverdale. Johnson and firefighter/EMT Charlie Bratcher responded and put a special product on the spill to clean it up.

Bratcher became a volunteer firefighter in 1986 and a professional firefighter in 2001.

“I started being a volunteer and the rest is kind of history,” Bratcher said. “It’s the best job in the world.”

After the training exercise, firefighters were dispatched to Northwoods Lodge in Silverdale. An elderly man had a possible stroke. He was transported to Harrison Medical Center.

“We go there a lot,” Johnson said. “If there’s one address we go to every shift, it’s Northwoods.”

After lunch, Station 51 was dispatched to a vehicle collision on Silverdale Way. The driver of the vehicle sustained no severe injuries, but her car was stuck in a ditch alongside the road. Firefighters swept up glass, cut the battery out of the vehicle, directed traffic and bandaged a cut on the woman’s hand. She was transported to the hospital. They worked closely with Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies who also were on the scene.

Brotherhood of firefighters

Because firefighters work and live together at the fire station, they often become close friends. CKFR firefighters frequently go camping and fishing with one another.

“After an unusually difficult shift we’ll go have breakfast together,” Stebor said. “I’ve got a good working relationship with these guys.”

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