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Jim Aldworth: firefighter

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"If you're good, you start thinking as soon as you get the call. You should be able to tell by the address what kind of occupancy you have: 'When I pull up, I expect to see a courtyard apartment' or whatever. We're very aggressive about residences. We're gonna go in, we're gonna get far in, and we're gonna put it out fast.

"You have to think, 'Where am I going to find somebody?' You go by the time of day. Most bedrooms are on the second floor. During the daytime, you don't know where people will be. If you can't see because of the smoke, you just feel your way around. Your right hand stays in contact with the wall, and you feel with your left hand and left leg. Then you work your way around until you've had four left turns with your right hand on the wall.

"You have to be careful with jumpers, because they could kill you if they land on you. You tell them to stay in the window: 'Don't jump! We'll get to you!'

"I don't do a lot of searches anymore. My primary role now is ventilating and letting the heat out by cutting a large hole in the roof. Four feet by four feet is ideal. It clears up the visibility, and searches go so much better and faster. We break windows, too. If you can breathe fresh air, you've probably got a good chance.

"If the stairs burn, we can't get up to people, and they can't run out. We had one where that was the case. Somebody ran in an apartment building and torched it and ran down the stairs with the gasoline trailing down behind. A lady died. They found her in the tub. She thought the water would save her, but of course, she couldn't breathe. If she had just hung her head out the window and yelled, probably somebody would have been able to get to her.

"Smoke inhalation is far more dangerous than the heat of the fire. You lose your cognitive functioning pretty fast. Sometimes people have taken in so much smoke that they lose the fine-motor skills to unlock their doors, so you find them by their doors. That's why we look in weird places like closets. If you're thinking clearly, you wouldn't think it was a safe place.

"The communication network has cut down on fires. If you can get to a fire before it's really started, in that first five minutes, it makes a big difference. If a Christmas tree starts, a natural tree, in ten minutes the whole room is on fire. Ten minutes is a long time if you have to wake up your neighbors and get to their landline. Now as soon as there's any kind of small fire, they're on their cell phone. We get one-room fires that at one time would have been an entire building."

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