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.