Tuesday, January 26, 2010:
Today’s morning classes consisted of a field trip to Sprinkler Fitter Local #417’s Apprentice Training Center in northeast Minneapolis for a lecture and hands-on demonstration of fire sprinkler and alarm systems. The instructor was Mrs. Angie Wiese, Fire Protection Engineer and Public Information Officer for the Saint Paul Department of Safety and Inspection (DSI). She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and is a certified Professional Engineer. She’s very talented, and is the daughter of a Saint Paul Fire Captain at Station 5.
Angie made the class cookies and brought in candy for our class, so everyone enjoyed the already good lecture on an important subject for firefighters. We go on many “alarm sounding” calls, and have to be familiar with alarm systems, how to reset them, how to investigate the reason they are sounding, and how to operate the various components of a fire sprinkler system in order to control fires and minimize water damage from activated sprinkler systems.
Angie’s lecture was followed by a hands-on demonstration of the various sprinkler system components located in the adjacent “laboratory” used to train and certify Sprinkler Fitters. That portion of the program was presented by Tom Froyum, a Fire Inspector with DSI and a former Sprinkler Fitter.
We returned from the Sprinkler Fitter Apprentice Training Center in time for lunch, and then received a visit from another of the Department’s Deputy Chiefs – this time Chief Dave Galbraith from the “C Shift.” Dave is an old Coast Guardsman like me, and he served on small boats and stations in Maine. He is a gifted leader and a wonderful story teller….I settled in for what I knew would be a good “yarn” as he began his presentation with a quick summary of the Wizard of Oz. He asked the class (with a quick little smile) if we all were familiar with the story of the Wizard of Oz, and after hearing that – of course - we were, of course, he said, “Good! That’ll shave about 2 ½ hours off today’s lecture!”
Chief Galbraith used the story of Oz to reinforce the three virtues he felt were critical to being a good Firefighter: Courage, Heart, and Brains – the three attributes sought by Dorothy and the gang. About “Courage” he had this to say (quoting an unnamed source): “It’s easy to be brave at a safe distance.” He reminded us that courage was not defined as ignoring your fear, but controlling it.
Regarding “Heart,” he talked about the passion of being a public servant….of treating people and especially medical patients with compassion and caring. He even said that HOW you people is more important than the actual treatment you provide. Dave is a long-standing paramedic with our Department and knows about how to “serve with Heart.” He also provided a quote from Albert Schweitzer that was most appropriate for the soon-to-be public servants in the recruit class (staring down the road at a – hopefully - long and successful career): “One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
For the “Brains” part of the story, Chief Galbraith spoke about the importance of not just applying “muscle” to solve a problem, but to THINK, PLAN AHEAD, and take care of yourself mentally. He reinforced some of the resources available from the Employee Assistance Program and the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team. Then, after a short meeting with the recruit class’s “C-Shifters,” Chief Galbraith returned to the Deputy Chief’s office, and we turned our attention to the remaining activities of the afternoon: EMS Practical “exams” with Chief Keith Morehead, and the first practice session for the Fourth Quarter (and final!) Practical Exam.
The EMS Practical Exam was not a scored test, but a mentoring session provided by one of the great EMS mentors in our Department. Chief Morehead worked on a number of medic rigs during his career and is well respected as a Firefighter, Paramedic, and Chief Officer. His time on Medic / Engine 17 was spent providing devoted service to the north East Side and in mentoring fledgling paramedics on this Department. Keith is a Registered Nurse, and has worked in the hospital environment for years as well. Suffice it to say that he knows how to treat people when they are hurt, scared, sick, and frustrated with the bureaucracy that can be found in the health care industry.
The EMS Practical Exam was set up for Chief Morehead to “mentor” us in a few of the more common and critical aspects of being an EMT / Firefighter on our Department. He constantly stressed compassionate care of the patient and superb customer service. During his 90 minute exam, he ran us through the rigors of collecting vital signs, spiking IV bags, 12-lead EKG placement, use of our hydraulic stretchers, and packaging patients for transport. It was a great mentoring session with a great instructor!
The final “event” of the day was a practice session for the academy’s fourth and final Practical Exam. This exam is another timed evolution that contains a number of fireground functions, critical pass-fail elements, a minimum passing score, and a maximum time allotment. Introduced today, we’ll take the “final” next Tuesday, and already my stomach is churning in anxiety. That has been a typical reaction, by the way, for all of these practical exams….the exams give me and many of my classmates butterflies, churning, anxiety, or….whatever you call it. We all know that failure is NOT an option, and - to various degrees - most of us start worrying about how well we do as soon as we find out we’ll be facing another exam….
The practical tests are tough, and they require strength, muscular stamina, and fine motor skills. The MIXTURE of fine motor skill elements (tying a specific knot for hoisting a tool, plugging in a ventilation fan, or screwing a gated Y valve to a standpipe) thrown in right after a major muscle movement item (running a hose bundle up the stairs, hoisting a hose bundle, back-laying 4” hose to a hydrant, etc) is what KILLS you. You get done with “the big stuff” (major muscle event), and when you’re all shaking and wobbly from exhaustion, they WHAM you with a fine motor skill activity! Tie a clove hitch, safety knot and two half-hitches around a pike pole???!!! I’m sucking air so badly that I can’t event SEE the pike pole!! I exaggerate a little here….but only a little. I can SEE the pike pole, but making my frozen, oxygen-starved, shaky fingers TIE the required knots with icy, stiff firefighter gloves on IS a quite challenge. But hey, it’s not SUPPOSED to be easy….it’s supposed to be firefighting!
Here’s an overview of the Final Practical Exam:
· Back lay 100’ of 4” supply line to a hydrant, make the hydrant connection, and open the hydrant (10 full turns of the hydrant wrench)
· Raise and lower the fly of a 24’ extension ladder, then donn your facepiece and go “on air” (no skin showing, or you FAIL THE EXAM)
· Carry a 70 pound hose bundle to the third floor, connect a gated Y to the standpipe, and turn on the water
· Carry a 50 pound fan from the 3rd floor landing to the fifth floor, plug in the fan and turn it on
· Hoist a 70 pound hose bundle to the 5th floor window and lower it back to the ground
· Run down to the 3rd floor, pick up the hose bundle, and carry it down to the ground floor
· Tie a clove hitch, safety knot, and two half-hitches onto a pike pole for hoisting
· Drive the Keiser sled 5 feet using an 8 pound sledgehammer (30 – 50 WHACKS that drain all energy from your forearms, all blood from your fingers, and all breath from your lungs)
· Do all of this in less than 8 minutes, and without any major mistakes. Quitting or intentionally skipping any station results in an AUTOMATIC FAILURE.
When I finished the practice test today, I couldn’t grip anything with my hands. It was a cold 12 degrees and the Keiser is a BEAST on the forearms. I met the time standard, so I “passed,” but I had forgotten the hose bundle on the 3rd floor landing! I ran right past it and out the front door of the tower. Later, I looked at my heart rate monitor and was shocked to see that my heart rate had spiked to 191 during the test….I thought my max heart rate was 185, and that was as high as it could go. Either I have a “new” max heart rate, or my monitor was acting up, but either way, I KNOW I got a very short but very intense workout during those 7 ½ minutes!
We are nearing the end…..The State Firefighter II exam is scheduled for Thursday, January 28th. The Final EMS Practical was held today…..the final written test and practical exam is a week from today…..then, graduation just a few days later. It has been a distinct pleasure going through this academy! Although I am looking forward to having it be OVER, I will regret going “back to the office” after graduation. My plan is to work a firefighter’s “work segment” once per quarter to continue my education of how our Department and its people operate. Four 24-hour days per quarter after graduation….I cannot wait!