Emergency Services Day

Matthew Collingsworth ’18
Class Reporter

East Lake Fire Chief Tom Jamison, ’17, demonstrated the technique we would need to use in order to keep from being thrust to the floor by the force of thousands of gallons of water spewing from the firehose. We gingerly accepted the challenge, each Class of ‘18 member getting a little braver than the last until finally a chance to truly test our skills emerged: Randy Sowers.

Not fully grasping the magnitude of the situation, Mr. Sowers smiled sheepishly as he saw classmate Brian Craig aiming the hose in his direction. That smile disappeared quickly as the bail was open and the spray set forth.

Narrowly avoiding the soaking, but not completely, Mr. Sowers was a good sport and didn’t even seek revenge.

This was the scene at the Leadership Pinellas Class of ’18 Emergency Services Day in April. Lots of fun and a lot of mischief but not so much that the weight and severity of the organizations we visited were lost on us.

That weight became abundantly clear inside the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center, located inside the county’s Public Safety Complex. Here there weren’t just computers and technology for monitoring storms, there were bunks, a full kitchen, and the feeling that many nights had been spent here responding to disasters like Hurricane Irma.

Preparing for and responding to disasters is serious business and not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. Those that are may find themselves in front of Jim Angle, director of the SPC Fire Training Grounds in Pinellas Park. Here many of the county’s fire departments pluck the top talent to serve their communities, he said. With intense training and exercises like the one that ended with Mr. Sowers on the business end of a fire hose, students of this program learn to be firefighters.

With several fire scenario simulations including gas leaks, house fires, and car fires, Mr. Angler said students were getting training that was close to the real thing. “But nothing,” he said, “Compares to the real thing.”

Training for the real thing occupies the majority of the time for seamen at the Coast Guard Air Station in Clearwater. Here the Class of ’18 was able to see up close something many of us drive by nearly every day. That giant hangar in Clearwater next to the PIE Airport holds some of the most advanced and expensive technology on earth. Helicopters equipped with sonar and other monitoring technology that can spot people adrift at sea and airplanes that can fly at 30,000 feet all while maintaining an up-close view of the water down below.

This station was just getting back to normal after a 2017 Hurricane Season that saw them deploying to Houston and then their own backyard. Some of the seamen also spent time in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

The last stop of the Emergency Services Day was Pinellas Park Fire Station 35. Here we watched as a fire team used the jaws of life to do a simulated extraction. Once they had pried away the doors and roof, it looked like the car had been used as a prop in a Monster Jam.

Pinellas Park Fire Chief Brett Schlatterer explained the importance of a tool like the jaws of life for a department like his. With much of his territory encompassing the busier parts of U.S. Hwy 19, traffic accidents are just a part of life, he said.