on Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 @ 1pm I led an “among friends” field trip to the Merion Fire Co. of Ardmore. Harrell, Sam Kaplan, Duncan Cooper, and I walked there from Gillane’s Tavern and were joined from Haverford by Bennett Smith and… no one else. Attendance was probably low because the posters advertising the field trip may or may not have been torn down by facilities due to partial nudity and eroticism:
But it was OK because James Weissenger of the Haverford Humanities Center said that the people who attended “add up to be worth more people than they are” or something like that. And the small size really did create an intimate atmosphere where everyone’s questions could be answered!
We were met at the door by a real fire man–I think his name was Dan, but unfortunately I can’t remember and he’s not on their website. He was very knowledgeable, informative, personable, and nervous. I don’t think he was used to giving tours to people who aren’t in kindergarten, but he did a REALLY good job of showing us around the fire station.
There were two fire engines and one ladder truck. He sat on the back of one of the engines and told us a little about the history of the fire station and how one moves up the ranks from volunteer firefighter to chief. We found out that there’s always at least one firefighter at the fire station, and that a typical fireman’s schedule is work 24 hours, take 24 hours off, etc. except on Sundays when it’s only volunteers. He also said that he doesn’t sleep well at the fire station because it’s uncomfortable. I asked if there was a fire dog and he said there used to be a dalmation, but they didn’t have it anymore. When I asked why, all he would say is that sometimes people rough-house with dogs… We learned that most fires happen because of electrical problems or because of the cheap materials that builders use today, and most happen at night because at night you’re too sleepy to realize that something’s on fire until it’s really going. All of this was very interesting but I was even more excited about the hands-on stuff that we got to do next.
We got into the passenger area of one of the engines and sat in the real fire seats. They basically looked like racecar seats with oxygen tanks attached that the firefighters take with them when they get out to fight the fire. I was surprised to see that there was no personalization of the fire engine–no dashboard adornment or anything–but Harrell said it probably wasn’t to code. Dan (?) walked us around the engine and opened all the cabinets to show us all the tools that firemen use to fight fires (besides the hoses of course.) There were A LOT–buckets, flashlights, axes, harpoons, stretchers, ladders of all sizes, fire blankets–you name it! The coolest one was a thermal imaging camera, which is a camera that allows you to see images based on how hot they are. It was so sensitive that one of the fireman put his hand on the truck and took it away but in the camera you could still see the heat from his handprint on the side of the truck. He said it was the newest technology in firefighting and that it’s really important but really underused.
VERY UNFORTUNATELY there was no pole at the fire station. They said that this was due to liability of some kind. That really sucked, but it was ok because these two firefighters were also there and helped with the other things I was looking for in a trip to the fire station:
(he was drinking what at first I thought was a beer, which really fulfilled my preconceived image of firefighters sitting around the station drinking beer and eating big spaghetti dinners, but it turned out to be a Sprite,)
and he sort of sheepishly demonstrated for us how they put on their uniforms.
It consisted of pants and boots (which he didn’t put on because they’re too hot), a hood, a jacket, a helmet, and an oxygen mask. I have to admit that he looked pretty intimidating with all the gear on, and if I were in a fire and saw him coming toward me I might be a little scared.
After that we had to go to get back to Haverford on time for the frisbee golf field trip. I really didn’t want to leave, and could definitely have stayed a few more hours and seen the rest of the fire station and asked even more questions. I realized that this is a style of learning that I really like!! It was like watching a TV show about fire stations but better–I didn’t have to pay attention to things I didn’t care about like with TV, but when I wanted to know more about something I could ask about it/touch it. Great!
Here’s a picture of my souvenir, which were fire engine whistles that I got at PartyLand. There are a lot left, so if you want one, e-mail me.