DAY 41: January 11, 2010
“Hit!......Hit!......Hit!......Hit!” With every staccato shout, my classmate, Brian, would swing an 8 pound flat head axe and sharply WHACK the Haligan bar I was wedging between the door jamb and the steel door. The door was all that was separating me from the entrance to the 6 story drill tower. “Hit!....Hit....Hit!” With the Haligan bar (a 3 foot long firefigher’s crowbar with a two-tine “fork” on one end and a large steel spike and an adze blade on the other end) firmly wedged into the door crack, I gave a final SHOVE, and the door popped open. I quickly stepped through the door, removed my helmet and Nomex hood, donned my air mask, opened the valve on my air tank, connected my air line to the mask, then donned my helmet and gloves again so I could enter the simulated hazardous environment of the drill tower.......
Today we practiced these steps as the initial actions in this week’s challenging practical exam: the Third Quarter Practical Exam. Fifteen possible points....one critical (i.e. pass or fail) criteria, and a maximum time allotment of 8 minutes. My stomach was churning with anticipation as I waited my turn at the locked door until it was my time to complete the test. The hefty 15 pound weight of the Haligan bar calmed me down.....I knew it was “action time” – no more time to think about the test – just time to think about completing each activity smoothly and quickly before moving on to the next action.
A short aside here from the test......I have a fondness for the Haligan bar. The first pet that Sue and I owned as a newly married couple was a Dalmatian dog we named Haligan.....Haligan Lucifer Cardhill: named after my favorite firefighting tool, and a devil of a dog for sure. Spots everywhere (even on the roof of his mouth). Our second dog (Spanner) also named after a firefighter’s tool came along 2 years later, but Haligan was our first, and a really good dog. I always think of old Hal when I pick up a Haligan bar – Hal and my friends at the Forest Bend Fire Department down in Webster, Texas......
Yes, the Haligan bar was a good way to start off this practical exam....!
After “going on air” and getting my helmet and gloves back on, I picked up the 50 pound ventilation fan and began running up the stairs of the drill tower. The Florescent Orange Mr. Smiley Face painted on the wall at the top of the fifth floor stairs was my goal, and my legs felt heavy and slow as I rounded the fourth floor landing and headed up the final set of stairs to the fifth floor. I set the fan on a pedestal near the window, connected the power cord, and turned the fan ON. I quickly moved to a 175 pound mannequin crumpled up in one corner of the room, squatted down behind it, and hoisted it under the arms into a rescue drag position. I dragged the “dummy” across the room to a safe haven location on the fifth floor, then pushed my helmet back into a “cowboy” position as I quickly made for the doorway and ran down the stairs.
As I ran down to the ground floor, I removed my gloves, pulled my hood back, and removed my air mask. The mask snapped into a special retainer on my air pack straps, and I pulled my helmet back on as I continued down the stairs. I dropped a glove, had to backtrack 4 stairs to retrieve it, and got both gloves back on just as I exited the front door of the tower.
Exiting the front door of the drill tower, I quickly hurried (no running on the “fireground,” but “walking with a purpose” is highly encouraged!) to a 24 foot extension ladder lying on the ground. I raised the ladder to the wall of the tower, extended it up to the second floor, ensured it was at the correct climbing angle, and secured the halyard so the extended portion of the ladder (the “fly”) would not collapse back down when I climbed. I picked up a chainsaw, climbed up 18 feet to the window, and placed the chainsaw inside the window. Then, I proceeded back down the ladder, moving quickly but carefully on the slippery ladder rungs.
Regaining the ground, I grabbed 2 spare air cylinders and ran back up to the fifth floor of the tower (legs were feeling even heavier than before!). I set the cylinders down, stepped over to the ventilation fan, shut if off, unplugged it, picked it up, and ran down the stairs. It was awkward running down the stairs with 50 pounds banging away at my leg! I was carrying the fan in my right hand – a bad choice! Next time, I’ll carry it in my left hand, and use my right on the stair railing for some support and balance. I managed to bang my way out the front door and set the fan down to stop the clock.......6 minutes, 28 seconds!! Well below the 8 minute limit! Breathing hard in the cold (20 degree) air, but very happy with my time and happy that it was OVER!
So went the first practice session for Friday’s Third Quarter Practical Exam! The practice took place in the afternoon. I missed a portion of the morning’s classes to attend a meeting (a meeting to obtain permission for our academy class to conduct live fire and search and rescue training in a “donated” house on Sherburne Avenue. Mission accomplished – we have permission to use the house for some hands on training before graduation!). While Chief Morehead and I wrangled with the attorneys, the rest of the class received a lecture on responding to electrical emergencies.
The rest of the day was spent practicing EMS procedures: spiking an IV bag, handling respiratory emergencies, and setting up and using our 12 lead EKG machines. The “medical side” of our operations is complex, and the myriad of equipment is – at first – bewildering. I feel clumsy and self-conscious touching my classmates and palpating intercostal spaces in order to correctly position the EKG leads. I am getting more familiar with the equipment, and I am glad we have a few more weeks to get comfortable and proficient with all the gear!
We are into Week 10, and the end is nearly in sight. Chief Morehead warned us today, however, not to get too comfortable. He reminded us of the written test and the extensive list of department procedures we’ll be tested on next week, as well as the upcoming Firefighter II certification test at the end of this month.....and of course, the Third Quarter Practical Exam this Friday. The Chief said it would be hard to keep us “down on the farm” (i.e. in the classroom) after we had seen Paris” (i.e. live fire burns). His gentle admonition was a reminder to not get our heads too far in the clouds – there was a lot of work to do before we could call ourselves “firefighters!” My classmates and I are eager to be “out on the streets!” We may not be in Paris yet....but we can see it from here!
So, until we actually get to Paris (which Chief Morehead pronounces “Pair Eee”), I will be working hard to successfully pass Friday’s exam and catching up on my reading assignments and studying SOPs over the long weekend we have coming up.
I have to attend a variety of Fire Chief meetings that will take me away from the classroom for a good portion of this week’s training. I hope they don’t have too much fun without me....!
Stay safe and enjoy the warmer weather this week (30’s for Wednesday!)