February 7, 2010:
I’ve washed all my work out clothes….cleaned out my car….stored all my classroom notes and textbooks on the shelf….read the newspaper reports of the graduation and the now fulfilled dreams of my classmates….and slept a full 8 hours last night for the first time in months.
At long last, I can look back at my academy experience and conduct a “Post Incident Review” – an After Action Report of lessons learned, of things that “went right,” and areas where I still need to do some improvement. Here are some of the significant results of my final personal “mental size up” on my academy experience:
- The academy broadened my perspective of what we (I) ask Firefighters to do everyday. From the tools I provide them with, to the rigs they drive, to the buildings they are expected to search, vent, rescue from, and extinguish fires in, to the procedures and training I provide them with, I have been exposed first hand to many of the challenges and obstacles they face everyday. I know that exposure and this academy has broadened perspective immensely. My academy experience will make me a better fire chief and help me make better decisions. Those decisions will be more “firefighter-based” in the future, and there will be an increased effort to improve the resources for, and the safety of, our firefighters.
- My appreciation for firefighters and the work they do was already at a high level before entering the academy. That appreciation is markedly deeper today. Until you’ve humped the hoses, crawled down the hallways, climbed on the ladders, and experienced the frozen fingers, pain in the knees, sucked the air, donned the gear, carried the load, and faced the challenges of running out of air inside a building or jumping out the window onto a ladders slide to the ground, you cannot fully appreciate the strength of body, focus of the mind, and drive of the heart needed to do this job well. I will be looking at the men and women around me now with a deeper understanding and respect thanks to having walked in their boots for a mile or two.
- Anyone who is preparing for the academy would be well-advised to be in great shape before they arrive on day one! Cardio-vascular endurance and muscle endurance is critical...muscle mass is less so. Do a variety of exercises, as firefighting puts your body into a variety of situations and movements not found on the typical weight machine or universal gym.
- Give the academy a full time commitment. Ensure you have 1-2 hours extra in the evening to study and practice the practical physical exams. Some of my classmates worked out 2 and 3 times a day, and many of us crashed in exhaustion early in the evenings. Time is precious, and none can be wasted while in the academy. Your family should expect that you’ll be largely unavailable for them for the 13 weeks, and you must prepare them to handle the household without you for much of that time.
- Prepare for the practical exams by getting the mechanics of the movements down and practicing for speed and proficiency. Donning your PPE and air packs correctly and FAST is vital, as is chopping with the axe, tying knots for hoisting, and pulling hose/dummies/weights with your arms. Practice some skills that require fine motor skill when you’re shaking with exhaustion until the movements become automatic. Create your own “back yard” props if you have to. I created one for the flat chop, hose back lay, dummy drag, and Keiser. If I can do it, YOU can do it!
- Your heart has to be in this. It’s too hard to complete a 13 week academy if you’re not REALLY into it. Jump in with both feet and a “burning” desire to attain that Firefighter’s badge!
My own academy experience is done, but I too know that it’s only the first step of a long journey. I intend to keep growing my skills and keeping in shape. I have enrolled in the 36-month apprenticeship training program and intend to complete that journey with my classmates. That program includes both college-level classes and practical tests (like our quarterly practical exams), so I’ll have to stay in top shape for the next several years.
I also intend to work alongside a fire crew – as one of the crew – at least a full 4-day work segment every 3 months in order to maintain my skills and keep in touch with the daily routine of the firehouse and the daily challenges of field operations.
I also have built quite a “work list” as I’ve gone through the academy – work list items I discovered while in the academy, and that I intend to address as I resume my full-time Fire Chief duties: fighting for the resources to improve the physical condition of our Training Facilities and training equipment; implementing new ideas for the Recruit Academy, company training, and the Apprenticeship program; modernizing our reserve apparatus fleet; refining, clarifying and consolidating many of our department policies; focusing on ways to improve firefighter safety; building on the strong partnerships we’ve formed with the colleges and businesses who have supported this academy and our department; and increasing communications with the firefighters in our department on health and well-being, safety, and lessons learned from various field operations around the country.
Tomorrow I return to the Fire Chief’s office. I’m returning a stronger, younger, smarter man. I’m returning with a larger, deeper “Firefighter’s” perspective and a Firefighter’s heart and passion for the job and the services we provide. I will be looking at our department’s services through the eyes of both “Firefighter” and “Citizen,” and I will always remember the “name on the back of my jacket!”
I cannot wait to get to work tomorrow!!! Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Saint Paul Fire Academy. I will continue The ON SCENE WITH CAR ONE blog in the future, documenting various fires, emergency scenes, and events in and around the Saint Paul Fire Department and – undoubtedly – some updates and exploits “from the field” on the Class of 2010. Please feel free to join me here online as I go to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’d like to continue to share with you my perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service! Please feel free to comment as well, and I look forward to going “On Scene” together.
God Bless and Take Care.