Being a fireman gives you a lot of unforgettable experiences. Sad ones, thrilling ones and funny ones etcetera, etcetera. But there are also the ones quite ordinary or not even thrilling at least for me as a fireman that is. Getting to firetrucks in front of your house and 10 fireman pounding on your door is of course enough to most people in an uproar.And so it happened just the other day. Now for us firemen the least favorite callout is the OMS.
One of the fires I helped put out. I was on the other side getting ready for an in house assault
OMS in Dutch stands for Openbaar Meld Systeem which roughly translates to public alarm system. When you have a building or business of reasonable size an OMS is mandatory. But there are a lot of smaller companies who have them.
Smoke and fire detectors are connected to a fire panel.Whenever a detector detects something, smoke, dust or whatever triggers it, the fire-panel responds usually by sounding the evacuation alarm. This for a section or an entire building. and signals the appropriate personnel, that there is a detection in progress ( Detection, keep it in the back of your head for now)
When a company is connected to the OMS the detection also triggers an event at the emergency control center. The control center will respond by dispatching the nearest fire truck or multiple trucks to the address of the connected system. The size of the rescue force is entirely dependent on the size and nature of the property which is connected to the OMS.
Unfortunately Smoke detectors sometime detect dust, or steam, or whatever. Or the just detect for no apparent reason. So in 90-something percent of the time the calls are fake, bogus or just plain annoying.
Imagine getting paged out of your bed at 3 am. during a working day, dress up, race to the fire-station, get your gear on, race to the address and inspect a detection on the 10th floor of an office building, which unfortunately has to be reached by the stairs. Because the use of elevators is prohibited until their is a clear picture of the situation. So there you go up the stairs packed with breathing apparel and all. Flashlights and a bunch of other stuff that increase your weight. ( Keep in mind that a firesuit, breathing gear, helmet, boots, flashlight and firefly weighs approximately 15kg(33 pounds) And that’s for starters)
You can probably imagine that we are less pleased with the OMS system, when we reach the 10th out of breath and then find, that there is absolutely nothing going on. If you are lucky the system can be reseted and you can use the elevator down. But mostly the detector is faulty and you’re only option is the staircase,Again! Great fun indeed.
It may not come as a surprise that these OMS calls make up the most of our callouts in the Netherlands and since there is always the chance of an OMS call being genuine we have to treat all of them seriously. Yes! All of them.
I often moaned in the middle of the night reading my pager, first 3 letters OMS.
Until recently I never experienced a genuine OMS call. But then a few weeks ago we had one. We where rushing to the address. Together with a mate I was putting on the breathing gear, whilst twisting and turning through alleys and corners.
All of a sudden I had 3 other firemen on my lap while I was squeezed against the side of the firetruck. The driver forgot to shout corner so they and me with them, never saw it coming. I pushed my colleagues back and we laughed while we thanked the driver for the lack of communication. A few seconds later we where at the address and me and my mate jumped out of the car. As we rendezvoused with the fire chief in front of an apartment building for elderly people we where greeted by the nurse a small woman in her late 40ies, with red dyed hair.
Well…. greeted…. more like. She was hysterical. Together with another nurse they had entered the room to check if the call was genuine and found an ashtray engulfed in flames. She had picked it up and had thrown it in the kitchen sink. She had turned open the tap. quick thinking had saved the room which otherwise would be blazing right now.
‘It’s ok, it’s ok she screamed. I put it out. I put it out’, she could hardly believe it herself. The women hardly took time to breath between sentences. It was the ashtray on the 4th floor room 413, psychiatric wing. ‘She tried to catch breath. ‘Calm down, calm down’, I said we’ll take it from here.’ You did excellent’. ‘The hall, the hall is covered in smoke. me and my colleague’.’….. Calm down’ ,the chief said, ‘ Guys, go have a look. Take a heat camera. ‘
We already had it and run inside, up the stairs. On the 4th we met the other nurse. Quite a sight for sour eyes, if I do say so myself. A young woman in her mid 20-ies. Well proportionated and a nice face. Her ebony brown hair, dark eyes, an slightly tinted skin gave away her Arabic ethnicity. Hell, she looked like she had just fallen out of 1001 nights, except for the nurses costume that was.
There was no time to get a better look. we rushed to the wing we where pointed to which was covered in smoke. Yup! something went down here. 409,410,412,413. The door was open and the lights where on. On the right we saw the ashtray in the sink. It was out, no more fires. But we had to check for hidden ones. As I pointed the heat camera around the apartment, you could clearly see where the ashtray had stood on the table as it lighted up brightly on the camera. A scan around showed that there where no other heat spots in the room. All clear.
I had 2 freshman with me. One just graduated for his exams in fire-training. I pressed the button on my Walkie-talkie. ‘110, here 111’, I said. ‘111,here 110’, the chief replied back. ‘ 110, all clear, but we need a ventilator to get the smoke out. We are heading back your way’, I said. ‘ Roger, I’m coming up for a closer look.’, the chief replied. We have to get a ventilator I said to my mates come on. Halfway down the stairs I met up with the chief. we walked back as my mates went down to get the fan. Come with me I said.
Together with the chief we examined the room and then looked for a suitable spot to setup the overpressure ventilator. we walked back to center spot where the staircase and elevator met. As we got there my mates just had brought up the ventilator. Taking it all the way up by the stairs. A nasty 20kg (44lbs) contraption with a moped engine and a huge fan. I took the guys to the spot and lighted the display of the ventilator. Gas open, Choke on. pull the chord. a few seconds later a huge noise came out of the engine. Choke back and throttle open. The sound of a huge lawnmower roared through the hallway of the psychiatric wing. blowing away the smoke through the open door and open windows of room 413.
We had put the ventilator outside on a small balcony at the other end of the hallway and within minutes the smoke was gone. Some curious inhabitants where peeking out of the door to see where the noise was coming from. ‘ It might have been easier to use the elevator to take the fan up’, I said to my mates as I smiled sarcastically. ‘, ‘ It is a fire elevator’. I could see in their eyes they got the message.’ Think about it next time. there is no damage to the elevator shaft’. I walked down to room 413 to see if the smoke had cleared.
I noticed the table where the ashtray stood. Next to it there where 9 half empty cigarette cartons and 6 open packets of shag. Jeezz this guy was a chain smoker. Apparently the old man living there had left his burning cigarette on the full ashtray and went to sleep. the smoke detector had saved his life. The nurses successfully evacuated the man and put out the fire.
‘Great invention the smoke detector. They should give the inventor a nobel prize, if you ask me.’, I said to my mate who just entered. He nodded. I pointed out to the smoking apparel on the table. ‘ My God!, that’s crazy’, he replied. ‘Well we are on the psychiatric wing’, I replied. My mate could not suppress the grin.
Under the cartons and a news paper I saw a worn out bible. The entire table was covered in ash and was full of burn marks from cigarettes. It was a sober room. On the sill where a few succulents and a picture of an old woman. Probably his deceased wife I thought. for the rest there was a wall cabinet in the room with a small TV in it a few books and some trumpery filled the rest of the cabinet. There where a few simple chairs and a bed. Nothing else, very sober. ‘Poor sod’ , I whispered and sighed. ‘ Come on lets shut the fan down where done here.’, i said to my mate. A shiver went down my spine as I thought to myself I did not hope to end out like that.
We saw our other mate at the end of the hall. ‘Kill it’, I shouted and beckoned it by slicing my hand in front of my throat. He nodded and went to the fan. When we got there he was looking for the off switch. I turned on my mag-lite and pointed my finger to the switch whilst shining at it. ‘ Over there’, I said. I picked up my walkie-talkie again.’ 110 here 111. All clear here. You can reset the system so we can use the elevator.’. ‘Ok, I’m coming up for a final check’, the chief replied.
I went down back to the lobby by the stairs together with the chief, while my colleagues took the elevator. The nurse had calmed down. Her boss had also arrived to assess the situation. She told us that the Arabian beauty was on her first night here. ‘Lucky you’, I joked as I looked at her. She shyly smiled back at my. ‘ You all did a great job. Keen thinking on the kitchen sink. I said to them. They nodded.
It was keen thinking, nurses are trained for this, but still. It could have been much worse. That would have meant the entire building would have been evacuated and the entire room would have gone up in smoke. We packed our stuff back in the fire truck and went off again. Another job well done. Back at the station we told the stories. the cartons of cigarettes the hysterical nurse. The Arabian princess. We told all about it. Then we finished our soda’s and went back to bed again.
Business as usual