Firefighting serious business in China

11 years ago

Firefighting serious business in China

To the editor:

    Rule number one for moving into a new apartment: Do not cook a grilled cheese sandwich before turning on the ventilation fan over the stove. Learning this lesson proved to be the highlight of the move. A classic grilled cheese sandwich has that delicious bite of charred toast harmonizing with gooey cheese and butter.

It also creates lots of smoke. For my new apartment, the sensitivity of the smoke alarm is now known. Also known is the response time of the building security people. They were fast, efficient, and polite. Impressive.

    My previous homes had been in a variety of structures deemed habitable. Most of the time I was the one who spent the time fussing with idiots who parked their bicycles in front of fire equipment; blocked doorways with bundles; and fire extinguishers that deserved a full five-alert funeral. In the U.S., thanks to some impressive reporting on various tragic fires and extensive liability laws, fire safety is high on the list of things that must be done. It is still an evolving awareness moment here in China. Even Walmart is not able to change a culture that has not yet matured to making connections between stupidity and tragedy. Things are improving and that is good.

    A visit to my doctor’s office takes me past one of the major fire departments in the city. This past year they have been involved in a major rebuild of the facility and so there has been no wall around the building. During the day, different crews practice attacking structures and evaluating crew performance in scaling the heights of the numerous tall buildings in this city. Entertaining, even though none of these exercises is done under a smoke or flame situation. Lots of whooping, hollering, and positioning take place as ladders are carried overhead by a running, uniformed firefighter. In one exercise, the smallest runner will race up a ramp, or a series of backs of larger firemen with a grappling ladder and catch it on the window sill of the next flight. He is followed by a nozzle man, hose carrier, and more manpower. The goal is to connect to the fire plug on the upper floors.

    A firefighter here has to be able to carry a charged hose up a ramp and into a building while being drenched with water from other hoses. Usually these hose crews are four-man teams with one on the snout and the other three providing the muscle. Having met the front line of Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama’s football team over the years, these four man crews are impressive. If I were a fire I would be a little bit nervous. Another team, the ladder crew, practices the claw and grab technique for going up the outside of buildings. Most buildings are constructed on similar plans. Three to four meters between floors. Ladders have hooks on them and the crew runs the ladder up to the window, hooks over an edge and prepares for the next link up. Beach head established, the climbing crew carries up the hoses and apparatus to the next level and begins again.

    The grilled cheese did not require a full tactical response. The gatekeepers downstairs spotted the alert. They called my apartment, verified that there was no problem and left me to enjoy a cup of coffee and a sandwich. It’s nice to know there are reinforcements ready in case the peppers flare up.

Orpheus Allison

Guangzhou, China