My day as a fire­fighter

The Covington News - - Front page -

Our home­work for our last class day — pub­lic safety day — of Lead­er­ship New­ton County, was to se­lect a branch of city or county pub­lic safety and spend a day with them learn­ing about what they do.

Work­ing at the news­pa­per, I read about dumb and vi­o­lent crim­i­nals in our county all the time and knew that rid­ing along with a sher­iff’s deputy or city po­lice of­fi­cer was not for me. Some folks who have pre­vi­ously been through the class said that the Cov­ing­ton Fire Depart­ment re­ally pulled out all the stops on this day, and if I re­ally wanted to chal­lenge my­self, I should go visit Chief Don Floyd and the boys over on Pace Street.

My hus­band is train­ing to be an EMT and would even­tu­ally like to join a fire depart­ment, so I wanted to see what kinds of things he would en­counter daily were he em­ployed as a fire­fighter.

Only class­mate An­jela El­lis of BB&T and I were brave enough to tackle CFD day on Wed­nes­day. We had to be there at 8 a.m. We were tak­ing a mod­i­fied phys­i­cal agility test that fire­fight­ers must pass if they want to work for the city depart­ment. The crew on duty set up al­most the en­tire course for us girls and then had to help us pick up lad­ders and drag a dummy to safety.

The gru­el­ing course, which starts with the ap­pli­cant in full fire­fighter garb (ours was light­ened sig­nif­i­cantly, of course) car­ry­ing a hose and tool bag up and down a flight of stairs three times. Dif­fer­ent sta­tions have ap­pli­cants dis­play their skill at chop­ping mo­tions, drag­ging a hose a cer­tain dis­tance, hoist­ing a lad­der and other pro­fi­cien­cies a fire­fighter should have. Then came the dreaded dummy — all 185 pounds of him. I prob­a­bly could have taken the en­tire seven min­utes you must pass the test in just drag­ging that stupid dummy to safety. How­ever, they like you to pick it up as much as you can so as not to chap the poor fel­low’s hind end. This was some­thing I flat out couldn’t do, so two guys (bless their hearts) grabbed his sides and we pulled him to­gether. By this point, the boys needed to turn a hose on my legs be­cause they were burn­ing at about four alarms.

The last sec­tion of the course has the par­tic­i­pant put on a black out mask and crawl on hands and knees while keep­ing one hand on a length of hose. Not nor­mally claus­tro­pho­bic, once the black out mask was on me, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and had to have them take it off for a mo­ment while I sucked in air like it was go­ing out of style. I was de­ter­mined to fin­ish though, so they strapped me back into dark­ness and I headed to­ward the fin­ish.

Dur­ing the en­tire length of the course all the guys were shout­ing words of en­cour­age­ment at An­jela and me. “C’mon girl, you can do it. Just 15 more feet. You’re do­ing great. Keep push­ing, you’re al­most there.” I would never have been able to fin­ish had it not been for them coax­ing me to fight the pain and ex­haus­tion.

Peo­ple that pass the full test in seven min­utes are strong of body, but more im­por­tantly of mind. Res­i­dents of Cov­ing­ton should rest eas­ier know­ing their lives are in ca­pa­ble hands.

Af­ter the test, An­jela and I needed a break. We rode along on two calls — both of them medics. The first call, we beat the EMS truck there. On the sec­ond one, EMS beat us by a few sec­onds. Both times the en­gines roared up to the scene less than five min­utes af­ter re­ceiv­ing the call from dis­patch. It was a thrill to ride in the truck with sirens blaz­ing, but more of a thrill to see the guys bring an un­re­spon­sive el­derly woman back to con­scious­ness. I add- ed a lot of new peo­ple to my prayer list Wed­nes­day.

Then came the ul­ti­mate test of men­tal strength — climb­ing the Beast. The Beast is an en­gine with an aerial lad­der that ex­tends to a bit over 100 feet. The strapped us into a harness and told us to climb to the bucket on top of the lad­der. Let me just say that climb­ing 100-feet in the air at a 75-de­gree an­gle feels like you are climb­ing straight up. I just kept re­peat­ing in my head, “climb, climb, climb.” If you looked down you would get scared and if you looked up the clouds pass­ing over­head would make you feel like the lad­der was sway­ing. So, just fo­cused on the next rung I needed to grab.

In the bucket I could see all of Cov­ing­ton as well as the tremendous yel­low dust clouds and dust devils of pollen swirling around the city. I was truly amaz­ing and I felt like I had climbed Mt. Ever­est. Go­ing down was a bit harder than go­ing up be­cause you nat­u­rally want to look down to see where you are plac­ing your foot. Looking down is in­ad­vis­able.

Af­ter lunch we suited up and got ready to en­ter the burn trailer be­hind sta­tion one. This time we were in full fire­fighter gear, which was heavy and hot even out­side of the burn trailer in the cool spring breeze. My oxy­gen mask was so tight that it was hard to blink.

The burn trailer is es­sen­tially a cargo trailer like you would see on a ship or train, with an emer­gency exit built into the side. A pile of lum­ber is set on fire at one end of the trailer and mostly used for fire­fighter train­ing — they are al­ways prac­tic­ing drills of some sort. Wet hay is added to gen­er­ate am­ple smoke. We sat about 15 to 20 feet away from the fire. On the ground it was about 400-600 de­grees. On the ceil­ing it’s like the sun. We raised our hands to feel the dif­fer­ence in heat. I was happy to stay near the ground.

The en­tire time

in­side, Cap­tain Tony Smith was ask­ing if we were OK and ex­plain­ing how the fire is a liv­ing breath­ing thing looking for oxy­gen. At first the fire climbed to­ward the ceil­ing and then rolled along the ceil­ing to­ward the dou­ble doors search­ing for air. I was never hap­pier than when I saw the hose blast the fire down to em­bers. How­ever, the steam made it tem­po­rar­ily hot­ter in the trailer. Crawl­ing out of the trailer felt like crawl­ing out of a mine shaft — sweet day­light and a gen­tle breeze.

So as not to dras­ti­cally change our body tem­per­a­tures we un­dressed slowly and re­hy­drated with Swinch­ers — highly con­cen­trated magic, all you have to do is add wa­ter. My T-shirt and jeans were thor­oughly soaked with sweat.

This day felt like a right of pas­sage, a spirit walk on which I found pieces of me that I didn’t know ex­isted. There are few show­ers and sleeps of my life that I would rate as good as or bet­ter than those I had Wed­nes­day evening.

Most im­por­tantly I gained a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for all who ded­i­cate them­selves to the safety of oth­ers, who will wake and dress in the mid­dle of the night at a mo­ment’s no­tice, who leap into waves of flames with re­solve I will never truly un­der­stand.

On April 22, we will visit the CFD with the rest of the class as well as other pub­lic safety de­part­ments around the city and county. Our class is plan­ning a spe­cial com­mu­nity ser­vice project dur­ing the last week of April, so con­tinue to read the pa­per or Cov­News.com for up­dates on that.

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