I believe every person dreamt in childhood to take a ride on a beautiful fire engine with lights and sirens. With the assistance of the main territorial department of the Emergencies Ministry of Ukraine in Kyiv, ForUm correspondents managed to fulfill this dream. Moreover, we spent the whole day with a fire team and experienced all difficulties of their routine.
In the building of the second fire and salvage unit, we were met by the spokesman of the Kyiv Emergencies Ministry department Andriy Onyshchenko, and after short negotiations we went on tour with the head of the unit Ihor Ilyenko.
The second fire and salvage unit is one of the oldest in Kyiv. It was built back in 1841 and still preserves the elements of old style service, including fire-observation tower with its ball-and-cross system. Firefights had a specific combination code of balls and crosses for every city district. In case of fire, the code of relevant district was "hung out" on the tower and fire brigades knew where to hurry.
The garage of the unit is large and its gates can let out six fire engines simultaneously. Among the equipment, the unit has two fast response vehicles, two fire tankers, one smoke exhaust vehicle and 30-meter-long ladder. The rest of equipment, like lights and communication vehicles or additional ladders, is engaged from nearby district fire departments.
Ihor Ilyenko tells that in case of fire on upper floors (above 16th floors), the main problem is fast access. Firefighters cannot use elevators, as first thing to do is to cut off power. Thus, firefights have to use stairs. It is not so fast and easy, as only the compressed-air breathing apparatus "Drager" weights 12.5 kilos, plus other equipment. As we have learned, there are only four long ladders in Kyiv. The longest, 90 meters, belongs to the fire unit of Poznyaky district.
This is the central alarm station of the unit. It receives emergency calls and arranges responding. The only women of the unit, apart from building-service supervisor, work here.
Apart from the garage, there are utility rooms.
The first floor is intended for personnel with its guardroom for sleeping, kitchen, sport room, relax room and shower.
One of the freighters is taking rest in the guardroom after 24 hours of service.
This is the office of the unit chief with rather joyful calendar on the wall.
The corridor walls are covered with pictures of fires the unit extinguished, as well as old pictures depicting history of the unit.
We have also met the building-service supervisor Lilia Anatolievna, who is responsible for all the equipment within the unit, and who showed us daily and combat uniforms of firefighters.
As we've learned, canvas protection suit gets soaked faster, but resists fire better than modern suits. Many firefighters raise money to buy better suit elements, like fire boots with straps or fire helmets with special faceshields. Sometimes they exchange suits with foreign delegations, giving them soviet suits as rarities.
We would like to go with firefights to a fire site, but nobody can tell you when it may happen.
"Last five days we did not have any emergencies, thus there is a good chance something may happen today. Big fires almost never happen in the center, but in Shevchenkovski district there are many old buildings, which blaze well."
Lilia Anatolyevna told us that in most cases fire happens in residential areas, especially in Troyeshchina. In the center, all old and a abandoned buildings have already burnt down.
This is a classroom, where firefighters study and train if they do not have a call to respond. Every member of the team has an exercise book. Today they are studying fire fighting instructions for various objects of the city. Normally, firefighters should study and train on site, but due to lack of fuel they are limited to theory.
The lesson was suddenly interrupted by a call - quarterly inspection from regional department. While the watching commander went to answer, we used an opportunity to talk to the team.
Senior officer and unit chief Andriy Borodin has been working in the unit for 21 years. He followed the steps of his farther and does not regret about the chosen profession. He says the unit does not have many 'veterans', because people do not stay long here.
"The majority of people come here to work temporary and then leave for better salary. Many people work here while study in an institute, but leave after receiving the diploma."
Having talked to the team we have learned that the salary of the unit chief is 2200 hryvnias and of a beginner - 2050 hryvnias. The salary grows after three years of work, but in the end, it makes only 2150 hryvnias. There are also some bonuses, but very little.
The majority of firefighters are not locals. They come from Kyv, Vynnytsya, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv regions. There is no dormitory in the unit, thus they have to get to work by bus or commuter train. Oleksandr lives in Nezhyn city and had to take the train at 2:50 a.m. to get to work by 8 a.m. The ticket costs 28 hryvnias, and every month firefighters have eight shifts each. You do the math.
According to the team, the most difficult fires are those, which last for several days. The team recalled the college on Vorovskogo Street, which was burning for four days. Among other difficult to deal with fires, there is a fire in a hospital, when firefighters have to evacuate bedridden patients.
Speaking about small emergencies, firefighters have often to deal with burning grass or burning trash containers. In winter, there are many fire cases in abandoned or unfinished buildings, where homeless people build fires to get warm.
"Modern" fires also become more frequent - short circuit in a Jacuzzi or air conditioner.
The team also recalled a funny case, when responding to a call they met a well-dressed woman on heels cooking barbeque in the middle of her apartment. They also say that people often set on fire the doors of neighbors just because... This New Year night they had to respond to the call on burning tree. The fire was caused by fireworks.
Our conversation was interrupted by the head of the regional department, who came to hold a test.
After the classes, we went in the kitchen, where the team cooks dinner.
The process, however, was interrupted again. It was the time of the next stage of the inspection. Firefighters slid down the pole, and we took the stairs.
Firefighters must pass the test on double loop. According to the norm, they have to do it within 28 seconds. Almost everyone succeeded.
Now it is time for rest. For lunch we had the best borsch ever.
After the lunch it is time for rest and maintenance. A firefighter on duty goes to paint oil tanks, while others go to the lounge room. Together with Andriy Borodin we continue the tour.
The firefighter explained the details of their work and focused on how important to act s a team, when everyone knows what to do now and next.
"Six people work as a team. One works with the pipe, another installs ladders, someone controls the distributors, etc."
Looking inside the engine, we notice numerous devices and equipments necessary for extinguishing, including first aid kit.
I am trying on the breathing apparatus. The suit is quite comfortable.
Breathing in the mask, however, is rather difficult without practice.
Firefighters say that one air container lasts three minutes, and in case of emergency, the breathing apparatus van brings spare ones.
Firefighters receive new summer uniform every two years and winter uniform every three years. New black suits with white strips resist better, and new rubber boots protect them from water. The helmets, though, are still the same from soviet times.
In the ground premises, firefighters keep special suits in case of nuclear hazard.
After the tour we went to the kitchen to have some tea, and the alarm went off. In several seconds we were already in the fire engine going to the scene.
We learned that fire happened in the elevator of Bogdana Khmelnitskogo, 68 building. In eight minutes we were on site. The entrance to the building is covered with smoke. Firefighters went upstairs to find the fire source.
Fortunately, there was no fire. There was short circuit in the elevator with further smoke spread.
We took a sigh of relief, and firefighters opened the windows to ventilate the premises and called the "Kyivenergo" service.
Waiting for the arrival of specialists, we were enjoying a splendid view on the city. Instead of "Kyivenergo" service, though, we saw two lift operators. The firefighters explained the situation and left for the unit.
All the work must be recorded, and the team went to write the report.
Before leaving the unit, we decided to ask the firefighters if they have some professional superstitions. It turned out they do. Firefighters never say good-bye or good night, as you never know how many times in a day they may meet again.
"And it is better not to wear clean uniform and polished boots. The fire will happen 100%," Andriy Borodin added laughing.
We want to congratulate all fighters of the Emergencies Ministry on the Day of workers of fire service and wish them courage and optimism. Let the fire burns in your hearts, not in the streets.
Anastasia Pika, photos by Maxim Trebukhov
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