Friday, August 24, 2012

Firefighter training course puts things in perspective

Tuesday morning I had the opportunity to do something few people outside of the profession ever get to do.
I attended "Fire Ops 101," which was put on by the Michigan Professional Firefighter's Union and the Wayne County Community College District.

When the invitation came I jumped at the chance without giving it a second thought. After all, I was an athlete in high school and college; this couldn't be that bad.

Trouble is, that was nearly a decade ago and I've put on about 150 pounds since.

The class began at 9 a.m. By 9:05 I was second-guessing my decision as I crammed my feet into the boots and tried to take my first step.

The boots weigh at least 60 pounds each -- they’re really more like 8 -- but I normally wear a light pair of dress shoes or sneakers.

The pants were a bit restrictive and the jacket didn't quite fit, but after about 15 minutes I was geared up. I was 14 minutes late had it been a real fire emergency.

I didn’t start well, but I was determined to make up for it.

The class, which was mostly journalists, was split into two groups -- seven in mine and nine in the other.
My group leader was Steve Heim from the Lincoln Park Fire Department. He did a great job explaining how and why we would be using certain equipment.We appreciated that, because we were the first group sent into the controlled fire.

Naturally, I didn't follow orders.

We were told not to panic, that we were perfectly safe in all situations, everything was under control and the like. I wasn't worried about that stuff. However, as I entered the blaze, I stumbled over the entry way and not-so-gracefully tumbled into the room, which was soaking wet after my companions laid down plenty of water.

At that point I was drenched and slightly disoriented. I looked up to get my bearings and the mask I was wearing went dark. The smoke covered it so much at that I couldn’t see, which caused me to take a couple of deep breathes.

That's not possible when you are wearing the breathing apparatus, and it caused a slight malfunction in my head as my body thought it wasn't going to get air for a split second.

Eventually I settled down and got "on the nozzle," which was a blast, but even in that very controlled environment, not nearly as "easy" as it sounded.

They even had the water pressure turned down, but it still was difficult to aim the hose while wearing all  the gear.

At last, it was time to retreat. I got out of the room easily enough and the second I saw daylight I ripped the breathing aparatus off. That upset the firefighters.

Being that I'm such a large man and have high blood pressure, they insisted I be checked out by EMTs before I was allowed to continue.

Two guys from the Brownstown Twsp. Department checked my vitals and made sure I was OK to continue before allowing me to head over, ironically enough, to the EMT station with the rest of my group.

We took a quick side trip to a fire truck to climb the ladder, but I declined. Not because I'm afraid of heights, mind you. I've got no issue with heights, what I've got an issue with is ladders.

After the ladder we ran through a rescue call that had  us respond to a patient that was in cardiac arrest and transport him to the truck, all the while still in the fire gear because firefighters don't always get called to a rescue from the station -- sometimes they are coming from another call.

All told, it was a great day; very enlightening as to what these guys do and how they do it.

The scenarios that we "responded" to were perfect ones that required us to do a lot less than a typical first responder would have to do.  We didn't have to run hose or move a full-sized body and there was no burning furniture or a chance the floor might let out. What we got was a small glimpse into the lives of the men and woman who go against nature and run toward disaster for a living.

I'm thankful I have never needed the services of any of these men and women, but I sleep better knowing they’re out there if I need them. And for that I thank them.

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