It was half past two in the morning when the alarm went off at Fire Station 25. The sound jolted me out of an unsteady sleep, and I arose from my bunk trying to listen to the call as I made my way toward the unit I was riding. I heard the dispatcher’s steady voice crackling over the speakers: “Engine Companies 25, 31, and 4, Truck 25, Battalion Chief 1, and Medic 25 respond for the alarm sounding at….” Her voice trailed off in the distance as I groggily crawled into Medic 25 and headed out the door. Probably another false alarm, I said to myself, still trying to adjust to the fact that 90 seconds ago I had been asleep. Before we arrived on the scene, the dispatcher radioed to the responding units that dispatchers were receiving multiple calls from this address—an ominous sign indeed.
Within seconds of our arriving at the scene, the location became a blur of activity. Each of us had been trained to handle emergencies and equipped with standing operating procedures to guide us. The engine company hooked up to the hydrant and advanced a hose line to the second floor of the apartment building. By the time Engine 25 arrived, heavy smoke billowed from under the door. This was no false alarm! The truck company forced open the door and began the search for victims. I had just come from the third floor when I heard the Chief say, “Beau we’ve got a victim over here.” I quickly took off my air pack and helmet. I turned to see a female victim lying in the front yard. Although she wasn’t burned, I could see that she had an even bigger problem: She wasn’t breathing. We had to do something for her, and we had to do it fast. Fortunately for the victim, we were trained professionals who face all such situations with a plan. We quickly assessed her condition and determined our course of action.
Much like fire fighters, anglers need to be familiar with what working condition their gear is in, and where it’s located. Reels in good working order which have been cleaned properly will work smoothly on a strong run from a winter steelhead, a feisty tug from a smallmouth bass, or the blistering run from a false albacore. Gear that’s not ready to perform at peak efficiency will no doubt break at the least opportune time and probably on the largest fish. Knowing that your gear works well and how to easily find it saves aggravation before and during any outing. Much like an emergency you never know when a good fishing opportunity could pop up and loosing valuable fishing time looking for gear is no way to respond to a last minute fishing invitation.
Every fly fishing venture involves rods, reels, flies, and a vest. But you must take your planning to the next level if, for example, you intend to fish in a remote location with no fly shop nearby. Don’t forget backup rods and reels as well as spare line. And many anglers who do remember to bring extra fly gear still forget the creature comforts that make fishing so much more enjoyable: sunglasses, a waterproof jacket (most often forgotten if it’s sunny outside when you embark on your trip), dry socks, and a change of clothes (for that unintentional but inevitable creek swim). It also doesn’t hurt to take along a few snacks like crackers which can easily fit into your vest and don’t take up much space. If you’re going off to some lodge or foreign country and are not sure of the local food meeting your needs taking along a jar of peanut butter is an excellent idea. Also check on the weather forecastbefore you leave. I learned this one the hard way when I went trout fishing at Bighorn River Lodge in Montana (www.bighornriverlodge.com). When I left Virginia, it was 70 degrees; I boarded the plane wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Imagine my surprise when I landed in Billings, Montana, and found snow on the runway! Thank goodness the lodge was well stocked with extra gear for poor planners like me.
Fishing, like firefighting, can entail certain risks, so using the right safety gear can make all the difference in your next fishing trip. Smart fire fighters always use self-contained breathing apparatus to operate in smoky environments and wear reflective gear to make them easier to see both at fires and on roadways. Anglers have similar options to keep them safe such as wearing good wading shoes to prevent falls and wearing sunscreen. It’s just plain dumb not to plan to protect yourself from too much sun and from dehydration. Skin cancer is a very real threat, though many anglers don’t think about the sun until they are sunburned-at which point the damage has been done. Get sunscreen with SPF 15 or better to protect yourself. And pack plenty of water for your trip. I recommend taking a long a portable filtration bottle. Choose a handheld model-it’ll pay for itself in a single season. Most important, lay off the booze until the fishing is over. There will be plenty of time to “celebrate” the day’s triumphs after you drive home safely or you make it back to camp. Prolonged exposure to the sun; weak, rubbery wading legs; and alcohol are a dangerous combination. No rescue worker in his right mind wants to operate around another coworker who is impaired by intoxicants. Anglers should have the same thought process, if the time has come in the day to have a beer get out of the river and stay out for your own safety and for those around you.
I am delighted to be able to report that the victim my team treated at the apartment fire that morning made a full recovery; in fact, she later came by the fire station to thank us. Lucky for her, we had a plan before we arrived on the scene. Take a hint from your local fire fighters and plan your next fishing trip well. Just as the scene of an emergency is not the place to plan or train for a rescue, so your fishing spot is not the place to plan your next fishing trip.
Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is proud member of IAFF local 2068 and currently serves as a captain on Engine 427 for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. His new book Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic: A No Nonsense Guide to Top Waters was just released, and you can order an autographed copy from the website.