Live Oak Fire Department Chief Chad Croft, far left, City Councilman John Hale, Firefighter Mike Baan and LOFD Training and Safety Officer Alan Bedenbaugh inspect the ladder truck the department received about two weeks ago.

Live Oak firefighters do more than handle hoses and maintain machinery these days. They prepare for terrorist attacks and school shootings, as well as handle gas spills and respond to other hazmat situations.

"Fire fighting is one of the small things we do anymore," said LOFD Chief Chad Croft.

Croft said the advantage of not being as busy with fires as bigger counties provides more time for training to prepare for potential disasters. And the department takes the time to train. Every day.

Alan Bedenbaugh became LOFD's first training and safety officer in 2002, the same year Croft was made chief. Bedenbaugh was also installed as the first safety officer for the city of Live Oak.

"Training is very, very important to us," said Croft.

"Times have changed," Bedenbaugh said.

State guidelines and regulations have prompted the department to provide well-trained personnel to handle tough situations. The department ignites fires in condemned buildings to sharpen skills in fighting structure fires. They also visit junk yards where they train to extract persons from wrecked vehicles.

"We place a baby doll in a car and smash the car and we see how long it takes to get the doll out," said Bedenbaugh.

Firefighters must also know the streets and the layout of the city forward and backward.

"A big thing from day to day is keeping yourself familiar with the equipment and the layout of the land," said Croft. Bedenbaugh provides a map with no street names listed and firefighters locate various districts and put streets in place. They also recall the location of fire hydrants from memory.

Firefighters also do walk-through inspections where they visit the commercial district to address safety code violations.

Croft said with the influx of new and different businesses keeps fire personnel busy.

Most of the department's firefighters are also certified as EMTs. They are trained to ensure safety while responding to the scene of a car crash. During training they learn how to handle new cars on the road and types of airbags and other materials.

"Some motors now if you put water on them they will explode," said Croft. "You need to know that."

Croft said firefighters have been killed by airbags. Personnel are taught how not to make an airbag deploy while cutting out a trapped person. There are also hazmat concerns with diesel trucks that haul petroleum products, for instance.

Bedenbaugh is on the scene at all accidents to ensure safety measures are in place. He is also present at potential hazmat situations such as the chlorine spill in Dowling Park recently and the train wreck near Falmouth last year.

For the chief paperwork is a big deal. Submitting reports detailing all unit responses is not only a state requirement, it also helps the station qualify for funding.

The Howell's Office Supply blaze in 2005 helped the city obtain funding for the new ladder truck that arrived at LOFD about two weeks ago. The fire at Howell's took 14 hours and 162,000 gallons of water to extinguish. Many firefighters remained on the scene for about 24 hours.

The biggest fire ever

Both Croft and Bedenbaugh agree the biggest fire they have fought is the blaze that consumed the Suwannee Democrat and several other businesses in 1995. The memory is vivid for both of them.

"It occurred at 7:02 on a Friday night," Bedenbaugh recalled.

Croft had just sat down to eat a plate of ribs at Ken's Barbecue when he got word about the fire. He was supposed to be on vacation. Both joined LOFD and a number of other units in fighting the fire 32 hours straight. Croft said fire fighting units were collectively pumping anywhere from 3,000-4,000 gallons of water a minute.

Temperatures inside the building were between 1,100-1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.

"After getting about 30 feet inside our face shields began to melt it was so hot in there," said Croft.

A story of rescue

All firefighters walk away with stories of rescuing someone trapped or assisting someone in a significant way.

Bedenbaugh remembers one woman desperate to retrieve her baby from a structure fire.

Bedenbaugh recalls the woman crying out, "My baby's inside. My baby's inside."

Firefighters searched the building to find the baby, but to no avail.

"We eventually found a dog inside the bathtub. It was a poodle," said Bedenbaugh.

Chad Croft

LOFD chief

• Appointed chief in 2002.

• At 35, Croft was the youngest fire chief in Suwannee County and the state of Florida as of 2002.

Croft says this about becoming chief at a young age, "The good thing is you're not on your way out the door and you still can make a lot of needed changes. I hope to make things a little bit better than when I started here."

Alan Bedenbaugh

LOFD Training and Safety officer

• Became the first training and safety officer for LOFD in 2002.

• Became the first safety officer for the city of Live Oak.

"Times have changed," says Bedenbaugh of firefighter training and safety regulations.

Other LOFD personnel

• David Bricker, assistant chief

• Jerry Sullivan, lieutenant

• Mike Blackmon, captain

• Fourteen firefighters, most of whom are EMT certified

• Ten volunteers

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