Saturday, January 26, 2013

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I was never really the kid who wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up. I don't remember having toy fire trucks, but I do remember having a toy ambulance with a really annoying siren. At various times in my life I was steered toward emergency medicine, and finally achieved that goal by becoming an EMT a year ago and volunteering with the local fire and rescue service. When I was being interviewed for being a volunteer, there was a joke going around that people were going to try and talk me into fire academy, but that would "require shaving on a regular basis". To that I would reply that I wasn't ready to commit to regularly scheduled facial hair maintenance, people would laugh, and life would move forward. During the summer of last year, my perspective changed when I realized that I would learn more about the fire service, as well as being more versatile within the department, if I committed to doing the fall fire academy.

Training started in September, which consisted of normal Tuesday night drills, two Friday evenings and two weekends per month through December, and spending time on my own practicing with equipment and apparatus knowledge. The volunteers and paid staff in the department were more than helpful assisting me toward the final steps: recruit test, STAR drill, and a live fire training. The recruit test took place on a regular Tuesday drill night, covering ladders, hydrants, portable extinguishers, SCBA and apparatus knowledge. I felt confident I would do well, and passed with little difficulty. The STAR drill came a few days later, which is a physical agility and endurance test. You have 25 minutes to complete a course of tasks such as climbing ladders, carrying hoses and salvage covers, as well as pulling a hose line and spraying water. All of this is done while wearing full turnout gear and an SCBA pack (thanks to Dan Kearl I now know this all weighs around 60lbs.). After completing the STAR drill, I was cleared for responding on fire calls, but not for interior fire attack or roof work. That would come later after the live fire training, also called a burn to learn.

Sometime around the first week of January, I received an email from Jake Alguire (one of our Lieutenants) informing me that he had been able to line up a burn to learn in Sheridan with the Yamhill Fire Investigation Team, facilitated by his dad (Bill), who is the Deputy Fire Chief in Sheridan. They were holding a weekend fire investigation class and had a house to burn which was divided up into seven different scenarios. Each scenario would be a truly realistic setting, giving us all the up close and personal experience of interior fire attack. We jumped in to the mix of people setting up, playing gophers wherever we were needed, since there was some debate of how much actual hose time we would get. After the Chiefs and Fire Marshals briefed the group and the plans were discussed with the Sheridan Fire crew, it was decided that we would end up getting ALL the nozzle time for the three recruits, with Jake backing us up on each fire. We took turns rotating through being on the attack line, the backup line, or the RIT team (Rapid Intervention Team) throughout the entire day. We all experienced what real room and contents fires were like several times over, getting feedback from a highly experienced group of Chiefs, Fire Marshals, apparatus operators, fire name it. By the end of the day, as exhausted as the four of us were, we were all on a high that wouldn't quit. We talked and debriefed all the way back to the station, then restored all the gear and vehicles before heading home to crash.....hard. I fell asleep in my couch around 8pm, finally waking up and heading to my bed around 3am. The next few days we were all a bit sore and still recovering, but all smiles. All we are waiting on now is three yellow helmets to show up on UPS............

I have to thank dozens and dozens of people for helping me along through my training, and I know I may forget a few specific names along the way, but here goes:

Philomath Fire & Rescue, specifically Conor Holmgren, Joe Tasker, Jake Alguire, Josh Sleeman, Ryan Riffle, Scott Moser, Viktor Bovbjerg, Doug Newell, Dan Kearl, Ray Hubbell,  Joseph Waite, Levi Schell.

Linn-Benton Fire Training Council instructors, Doug Lilja (PF&R), Cary Vonasek (TRVFD), Dan Wehrman (CFD), Mark Bernt (AFD)

My fellow fall recruits from PF&R Phil Burkum and Ted Vaugh, along with the recruits from Monroe, Sweet Home, Adair Village, and Jackson County.

Yahmhill Fire Investigation Team, Sheridan Fire Department (Chief Wade Davis and Deputy Chief Bill Alguire), Newberg Fire Department (Division Chief Chris Mayfield plus his engine crew), Dan Mills (retired state FM), Polk County Fire Dist. #1 Chief Jason Cane, Oregon State Fire Marshals, and anyone I may have forgotten.