Park City Fire District officials reminisce about the changes in the industry
When Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt joined the Salt Lake City Fire Department in 1990, he described himself as a wide-eyed kid who would believe whatever his superiors told him.
Firefighting is a paramilitary organization, he said, and when he first joined he was told, “Listen kid, if you are late to recruit school, don’t even bother showing up. You’re fired. We will lock the doors and you’re done.”
“So when someone told you, by the way kid, the water will push a fire through a house, we just believed it,” he said. “We were like OK. Whatever you say. But, we get these gray hairs and wrinkles on our faces for a reason. We have been around for a while and you live and learn. Luckily, fire services proved to be very flexible with changes and we have gotten much better at our craft.”
When Park City became incorporated in 1884, the newly formed Park City Council established the Park City Fire Department to serve a population of more than 5,000 residents, according to the Park City Fire District’s website.
Firemen originally traveled to calls in horse-drawn fire engines, followed decades later by open-roof automobiles.
Park City’s community continued to grow and flourish as a mining town until the mid-1950s when “it was nearly deserted due to the claims drying up,” the website states. But, as winter sports revitalized the economy in Park City and ski resorts were established, the Park City Fire Protection District was created in 1970 to serve the growing population, according to the website.
Fighting fires in the late 80s and early 90s
When the Salt Lake City Fire Department hired Hewitt in 1990, the first couple of fire engines he rode on required crew members to sit outside, facing backwards. He added, “We rode in the elements.”
“That was actually luxurious,” he said. “If they didn’t have any seats for you, you would ride standing on the bumper. You would hang onto a chrome bar and in the mid-80s, Salt Lake City firefighters did that going 55 miles per hour down Main Street. You were standing on the bumper, waving at people. It was actually a lot of fun.”
Captain Bob Zanetti, who has been with the Park City Fire District since 1988, said Park City’s fire engines were slightly more advanced than Salt Lake City’s.
“We weren’t allowed to ride on the bumpers, but we sat outside facing backwards with no seatbelts,” he said. “The only way to stay warm was to get close to the turbo from the engine.” When they arrived at calls, Hewitt and Zanetti recalled, self-contained breathing apparatuses were not common for all districts and firefighters were often exposed to smoke inhalation.
Technological and data-driven
Firefighting has significantly advanced from those days, according to Pete Emery, a battalion chief with the Park City Fire District. He said the firefighting tactic has transitioned from a “start from the inside and work your way out” mentality to one where they “start from the outside and work your way in.”
“The old-school thought was that you could move fire with water and, obviously, it doesn’t happen,” he said. “There have been more and more studies, and research has shown that if we can immediately put water on that fire, we can cool it down and make that environment safer if there is anyone still inside, and we are more likely to make a rescue at that point.”
Emery said the industry is constantly changing and adapting. He said it is very data oriented now and, “We don’t just do things based on how we think it works.”
“Our success rates have gotten better and our fire tactic is better and safer,” he said.
Most of what Park City Fire District responds to now involves medical emergencies, Hewitt said, and advances in technology are critical. He described equipment that helps paramedics put airway tubes down patients’ tracheas with the help of a camera when, in the past, paramedics had to use a straight blade and imagine what the trachea looks like.
“In the medical front, we have innovations and new technology that comes out every year,” he said.
Park City Fire District today
Park City Fire District responds to a wide array of calls these days, including incidents of hazardous material spills, animal rescues, ice rescues and trench rescues. New fire engines, like the one Park City Fire District recently purchased for more than $500,000, are critical for those incidents.
“The community wants us to be able to respond to everything, and things are happening all the time and that is in just my short seven years here,” he said.
Crews responded to more than 5,000 calls last year. Zanetti said back in 1988, they would have only responded to a couple hundred.
“Resorts, visitors and special events have all had a huge impact on us, and it has continued to grow steadily every year for 28 years,” he said. “It’s amazing where we are at today, and we hope it would continue. We talked the other day about how when we leave we hope it continues. We want to be out front with technology and safety.”
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