HOLLYWOOD (CBS4) – It’s called the House of Pain — Fire Station Number 5 in Hollywood.
No one can remember when it earned that nickname but everyone who works there knows why.
“A tour of duty here carries a certain pain involved with just being here,” said Hollywood Fire Division Chief Joel Medina.
Statistics complied by Fire House Magazine show that the House of Pain is the busiest fire station in Broward County and the second busiest in Florida. The reason? Firefighters say it’s geography.
“There’s nothing that’s typical here,” Medina said. “We can be working a pedestrian hit by a train. We can work a boat fire. We can work a multi-car accident on I-95. There is nothing typical in district 5. Nothing.”
On a Friday morning in late December, CBS4 reporter Carey Codd and photojournalist Harrison Williams arrived at the House of Pain to see what a 24 hour shift is like. They found a bed, unloaded their gear and headed out on the first of many emergency calls.
The calls poured in — a dead body, a possible car fire and an elderly woman who fell and hit her head were just a few of the 19 calls the team ran on during the 8 am-8 am shift. Each call was handled with the same seriousness, attention to detail and care that you would expect from trained firefighter/paramedics. And no matter how tired or hungry the crew that filled up the rescue truck was, they never let it show.
“You gotta prepare yourself for a beating,” said firefighter/paramedic Chris Sullivan, “because mentally and physically it’s going to tax you about as much as you can be taxed.”
One of the first calls the rescue crew — a team of 3 — ran on is a signal 7, or a dead body. Firefighter paramedics entered a cramped apartment and confirmed that the person is deceased. From there, the next call took the rescue crew to Dania Beach, a city which has a mutual aid agreement with Hollywood. The crew transported a man to Memorial Regional Hospital for treatment.
On each call, Lt. Phil Edelman furiously took notes and sent real-time data on the patients to doctors in the emergency room. The software allows doctors and nurses to prepare a plan to care for each person and to be aware of what type of case was about to come through the ER doors.
“It makes our patient care better,” Edelman said.
After a busy morning, the men and women of Station 5 gathered around the table in the kitchen. All the firefighters pooled their money to buy food for the shift and they make sure to eat healthy, hearty meals when they have time.
“Eat now because you never know when you’re going to get a meal,” one of the firefighters said.
Around the table, jokes are told, stories of past calls are relayed and laughs are heard. This is the place these firefighters release the tension of the day and spend time with their second family.
“There are things we see that can weigh on you,” said Lt. Edelman. “You leave it at work. We’re a family here. We eat at a table like family, we hang out at the station and we live a third of our lives together.”
During their down time, firefighters clean their equipment as well as the firehouse. They also find time to train or exercise.
BACK TO WORK
As the shift wears on, the tones in the fire house continue going off. There is a call for an unconscious man in the road, an injured man near Hollywood Beach and an elderly woman who hit her head at an assisted living facility.
Around 1 am, a call takes rescue crews to one of the most dangerous places they can be — I-95.
A driver said her car started smoking and she’s in no hurry to get off the interstate.
“Number one, she’s either gonna get hit by a vehicle or number two, a vehicle gonna’s try to avoid hitting her and hit another vehicle and we’re gonna have a major catastrophe here,” said Division Chief Joel Medina.
The woman refused to go the hospital and the Florida Highway Patrol took over the case.
As the hours pass, that’s when the House of Pain earns its’ nickname.
“You have to be just as sharp as you are at 12 o’clock in the afternoon as you are at 12 o’clock at night,” Edelman said.
Firefighters at the House of Pain judge their shift by how many calls they get after midnight. At 5 am, the crew ran on their 4th call — which is about average for Station 5.
There’s been other pain at the House of Pain — like financial troubles in Hollywood that forced firefighters to take a pay and benefit cut. Firefighters say they’ve also maintained the same staffing numbers despite a significant increase in emergency calls.
“Our staffing levels haven’t increased,” Medina said. “The last time we increased our staffing levels was 1994. We’re running almost 27,000 calls with the same number of units that we had in 1994.”
Burnout is a concern at the House of Pain. Hollywood Fire officials say they have a way to handle it.
“You gotta keep people moving in and out of here,” Medina said. “They gotta know that when they come in here — I’m going to the House of Pain. I just gotta do it for 3 months.”
But with the pain comes the pleasure — the joy of helping others and working with a team to solve problems and deal with crises.
“You come in here and sometimes you’re dreading it,” Edelman said. “You know you’re gonna be hurting the next day but when it’s all said and done you’re proud to have done it.”
As morning broke over the fire station, the men and women prepared the station gear for the crew about to take their places — wondering what type of workload lay ahead for the next shift at the House of Pain.