The Surveyor does…A day with Berthoud firefighters

By Dan Karpiel

The Surveyor

There are a lot of things in life we take for granted; things we know are there but often are far from the forefront of our minds.

Our firefighters and other first-responders are some of those things. Yours truly got to spend a portion of the day with the men and women of the Berthoud Fire Protection District (BFPD), and it was nothing short of an eye-opening experience. I was blown away by the group’s commitment, dedication and professionalism, and I learned a great deal about what these fine men and women do; day in, day out.

Photo by Dan Karpiel –
Berthoud Fire Protection District Lieutenant Monty Kitzman (left) and firefighter Kyle Stricklin manage a training exercise where the crew observed the means by which fires begin, spread and are ultimately extinguished inside enclosed structures at the BFPD Station 2 last Thursday.

 

My visit with the BFPD happened on a slow day, which meant nothing terribly exciting happened, but, as the firefighters themselves said, that means everyone in the community was having a good day. You see, firefighters and other first responders very often only see us on our worst days, when we’re in a car accident, have a medical emergency, or a fire in our home or workplace.

While the department did not get any action calls during my visit, that did not mean it was an idle day for the firefighters – quite the contrary. The BFPD has three crews, or three shifts, “A,” “B” and “C” as they call them, that are on-duty in 48-hour shifts. That means the firefighters do not go home and see their families and sleep in their own beds. They live at the station; eating, sleeping, showering, for two full days before getting four days off, when can they can return home and find some semblance of normalcy.   

Even when they’re not responding to an emergency of one kind or another, the firefighters are constantly busy. Last Thursday during my visit I was fortunate to observe one of the department’s training exercises. The BFPD is required to do three hours of training per day, not per shift, per day. On Thursday, out at Station Two on County Road 23 and Highway 56, the department conducted an exercise that studied the propagation of a fire through an enclosed structure.

The crew built several large “doll-house” type structures out of plywood that consisted of three levels with floors between, walls separating interior rooms, and a pitched roof with an attic. There were several vents that could be opened and closed on the inside and outside of the structure to create and cut off airflow. The firefighters stocked the house with various pieces of wood and segments of insulation which simulated various pieces of furniture in the home. It was explained that modern furniture is not made of natural fibers like wool, as it was it in the past, but rather hydrocarbon-based composite material, making the couches and chairs that fill our homes highly flammable and combustible materials.

Captain Andrew Kuiken, commanding officer for C shift, led the training exercise, and it was clear even the more-senior firefighters involved were learning a great deal. Using heat guns, some of which contained infrared screens that could show the firefighters where various heat pockets existed inside the structure, the crew was able to determine where the fire was and devise a plan for combating it. The simulation also gave the crew a first-hand look at how the color of the smoke emanating from the structure could provide clues as to how far along the fire was in its lifespan.

The crew would open and close the doors, fueling the fire and learning life-saving lessons about spontaneous bursts of flames that exceeded 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. While the firefighters did enjoy the exercise – setting a model house on fire brings out the kid in everyone, myself included – it was an incredibly valuable and informative exercise.

Following the training exercise I spent a few minutes with Caitlin “Cate” Crotty, the lone female on the BFPD squad. Crotty told me she did not originally set out to be a firefighter and was pursuing a career in nursing. Yet after completing her bachelor’s degree she did an EMT certification and, following a ride-along with a fire squad, she found her calling, and a career was born. Crotty explained the prospect of being a woman in a male-dominated profession did not give her any pause and the guys on the crew have been entirely welcoming and she’s as much a part of the team as anyone.

The firefighters told me when the bell for a call goes off, the adrenaline rush is always there and they never get immune to the gravity of their job. Kuiken explained that demands of the job, be it the arcane hours, dealing with tragedy, seeing things the rest of us don’t even see in our worst nightmares, are something he and the entire crew not only accept, but embrace. The feeling of saving a life, he said, is something that can never be replicated, and that is why the firefighters do what they do.

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