Episode 4: Striker

Lewis Warren, a firefighter and field training officer at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in Texas, helped Hamster operate the eight-wheeled monster machine that is known as The Striker. Here, Warren — who’s been driving The Striker for eight years — talks about what it takes to keep the world’s most powerful fire engine running successfully and what it was like to film with Richard on one historically hot summer day.

What does a regular day look like for you as a firefighter?
Lewis Warren: As a firefighter, when you get into work, the first thing you do is place whatever vehicle you’re going to be in, and at my station we have three vehicles: a ladder truck (structural vehicle), the Striker (an aircraft firefighting vehicle) and then a unit called “the stairs” (a mobile stair unit). Next, the captain will make vehicle assignments on who’s on each vehicle and then you get all your gear out, do a conference call at 7:30 and then a crash tone test. The control tower will do a tone test to make sure all the stations and the dispatch center have a working communication system. After that, a phone briefing with all the other stations follows to discuss the events of the day, which will include training and news of vehicles that are in and out of service. Lastly, a manpower lineup, which informs us who’s in and who’s called in sick, is announced. From there, the vehicle lineup of which vehicles you have access to for the day is determined.

What kind of maintenance goes into The Striker before you jump behind the wheel each day?
Warren: The first thing you have to do is a full inspection. You’re checking the oil, the treads on tires and looking for any damage that may have occurred during the previous shift. Once starting it up, you check all your systems from the emergency lights to turning on the water pump to make sure it engages when you need it. And then once you’re driving, you want to make sure that all tires are working properly.

What would you say is the biggest challenge when driving The Striker?
Warren: It’s so big — it’s over 41 feet long, almost 12 feet wide and 13 feet high. When you turn a corner, you want to make sure that you’re not running over anything on your right or left sides. If you run over something, you won’t feel it. One time, we had a guy drive over a fire hydrant, and the hydrant threw the back end of the truck up.

What are some of the challenges when training someone in such a giant vehicle?
Warren: You have to understand your student and you have to understand your target audience. Each person is different when it comes to their mechanical history, their driving history and their learning style. Managing people’s ability to attain chemical knowledge is a huge challenge. For some, describing different systems on the truck from the hydraulic system and electronic system to water delivery system, it depends on their ability to absorb that and how fast they learn the truck.

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Episode 4: Striker