Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


January 29, 2010

I am crawling fast – SCOOTING, actually – doing a narrow hallway. Opening off to my left and right were vacant offices with carpeted floors and a single window in each room. My classmate, Bernie, was searching the rooms to the right; I took the rooms to the left. Our Search Team Leader and classmate, Andy, was moving quickly down the hall with us, trailing a rope tether behind us as we went. The rope was tied off to the railing at the top of stairway of the second floor - the floor we were searching…..looking for reported victims.

Below us, our attack crews were fighting a fire in the warehouse area of the 2 story commercial structure that we were searching. The building was abandoned, but formerly contained the warehouse on the ground floor, and the office spaces above. Light smoke filled the hallways and rooms of our second floor search area. Visibility was good….8-10 feet or so, and we were moving fast down the hallway. My helmet-mounted flashlight lanced through the smoke, diffusing from a narrow spotlight beam into a scattered flood of light that seemed to be pushed back – and pushed apart – by the smoke….. exactly like a car’s headlight vainly attempting to pierce a fogbank. At each doorway, I’d stick my upper body into the door, shine the flashlight beam around the room, and call to Andy: “CLEAR!”….no one inside that room. I scooted down the hallway, pushing my Halligan Bar ahead of me in my right hand, as I reached out to the next doorway on the left. The only rooms I really needed to fully enter were the bathrooms at the far end of the hall….I wanted to ensure no one was in any of the stalls….

Andy, Bernie, and I are part of a larger exercise – again at a vacant structure at the Rock-Tenn Corporation in Saint Paul. This large industrial complex recycles cardboard and manufactures card stock and paper products. The building they have loaned us for our training exercises is a perfect structure for our use: a mix of offices, warehouse spaces, kitchen and meeting rooms, and utility rooms and loading docks. We conducted a total of 5 evolutions at this facility this week, conducting live burns, search and rescue evolutions, and simulating rooftop ventilation using an aerial ladder truck. The training was realistic, yet controlled; safe, yet challenging. For me, it was highly enjoyable as well….I had a BLAST!

Today was the last day of Week 12. We have only one week to go….”4 days and a wake up,” as we used to say in the service. 4 more days of training, and we wake up on Day 5 for graduation and a joyful release from the classroom and the academy! All of us are anxious to finish and “hit the streets,” and the Training Division staff recognizes perhaps the most dangerous part of our training: the time where we’re anticipating completion and focused on “being done,” yet there are important lessons for us yet to learn. We’re confident and cocky….yet we are not experienced enough to avoid a deadly mistake. Chief Morehead used a barnyard analogy to describe our eagerness to be done: “The horses are out of the stable”….or “the pigs are out of the barn,” or something like that….in other words, it’s almost impossible to get our attention and keep us all herded together in the final weeks of the academy. But the Training Staff manages somehow – just barely at times – to keep control over us, and we know we still have two huge hurdles to clear in Week 13: the final, all-inclusive written exam, and the Fourth Quarter Practical!

There were four of us working on the search team, working the second floor hallways and offices. As I low-crawled down the carpeted hallway – flashlight beam lancing out to the rear end of my partner as he crawled down the hallway just in front of me – I thought it looked just like a hotel: rooms opening off both sides of a carpeted hallway, except these rooms were empty offices measuring about 10 feet by 10 feet. “Command” (the Incident Commander, who was managing this incident) had assigned our 4-man team to search for victims on the second floor office area.

We broke into two teams of two to quickly cover the hallway and office area, thinking we’d move onto the cafeteria and meeting room areas when we were done with the offices. My partner and I took the left side of the hallway, and the other two member of our search team took the right side rooms. We opened the door to each room, I went to the right in a right-handed search, and my partner went to the left in a left-handed search. He had an axe, and I used a six-foot pike pole to extend our reach into the smoky darkness. Stretched out, we could cover the room with a single “sweep,” and we quickly made our way through the three offices on the left. Just as we dove into the smoke for the last office, our teammates in the right hand rooms yelled out, “We got a victim!” We finished off our room search, met our brothers in the hallway, and the four of us worked to maneuver the victim down the hallway and the stairway using brute strength, our “Morehead Straps,” and some finesse to work through the doorway at the top of the stairs. We carried the victim out the front door, then were reassigned to search an area on the first floor…..we adjusted our gear, checked our air supply (over 2/3 full – GOOD!), and went back into the structure…..

The smoke was lighter down here, we could duck walk through the larger rooms…..THERE – in the corner of the kitchen area!! Two victims! We quickly grabbed them under the arms and moved back towards the front door. They slid easily on the linoleum floor! We quickly had them outside into the snow and slush of the cold winter day. It was a most satisfying afternoon!

This weekend I would relax and spend some time with my son, Jack. He’ll turn 12 on February 5 – Graduation Day for us, but a big day for him as well. I’ll likely have to cut short the graduation party in the evening to spend Jack’s birthday with him in a special way. Last night he had told me, “Just one more week!” I thought he was referring to his birthday, and said, “Yeah, one more week until your birthday!” He said, “No, one more week until I get my Dad back!” OUCH! This academy has been quite a time commitment for all of us – recruits, instructors, and families - and I’ve heard many of my classmates talk about the time they’ve devoted to studying, working out, or crashing on the couch after a hard day in the brisk winter air. All of us realize that a critical factor to success at the academy is this: You have to make it a full-time commitment!

I’ve been able to manage by having a great staff back “in the office” that has taken much of the Chief’s workload for me, and a great “Commissioner” (i.e., wife) at home, who understood and supported the commitment right from the start. But the academy has been a drain on all of us recruits and our families (and the instructors and their families), and we’re all looking forward to graduation day! Four more days, two final exams, and it’ll be all over, Jack, and then you can get your Dad back again!

I’d like to thank all the families who have instructors or recruits involved in our academy! You all – like the families of our front line brothers and sisters in the firefighting service – also sacrifice and serve alongside us. You make our commitment possible, and you bear much of the burden of managing a home and raising children “solo” because of our firefighting jobs. God Bless you all for your support to us and your enduring service to our community as well! I will never forget that FAMILIES ALSO SERVE!!


1 comment:

  1. Chief,
    Congratulations on completeing your academy, a great milestone, and something I am sure has earned you a great deal of respect. It was good to see you at the top of the IDS today (whether you knew it or not you were chatting with me about the climbs our Firefighters have participated in...) Congrats again on a job well done, I am sure your family is happy to have you back!!!