DAY 35 - SECOND QUARTER PRACTICAL EXAM

December 31, 2009:

Today’s the day I’ve been looking forward to for two weeks! Not only will the Second Quarter Practical Exam be over, but a very long and strenuous week will be over as well. I am looking forward to the weekend and “sleeping in” (my kids laugh at this – sleeping in for me means getting up at 0600 instead of 0300 or 0400!). But, not to get ahead of myself, the day would be challenging, and there would be time planning out the weekend AFTER the exam was over!
 
The morning was devoted to practical skills, and we broke into three groups of seven recruits each. One group worked practiced placing 12-lead EKG leads on a patient (a common skill in Saint Paul’s system, where firefighter/EMTs go on all medical emergency calls). A second group practiced with the hydraulic stretchers and the chair stretchers used on our medic rigs. The third group ran the Second Quarter Practical Exam for final grading. Radio communication between the groups and the instructors kept us rotating on time to a new skill station every hour or so.
 
The 12-lead EKG and the stretcher stations went off without too much difficulty. Each of the groups was led by one of our classes paramedics (our recruit class has three certified paramedics). The leader of my group was Brian M________, the tall, lanky axe man of Flat Chop notoriety. He’s a good medic teacher as well! He easily led us through the stretchers and the subtle nuances of dealing compassionately with both medical patients and their family members.
 
An then, all too soon, it was time for the Second Quarter Practical Exam. I wasn’t really too worried about the exam, but I mentally reviewed each step of the process as I waited to begin, because missing any of the critical criteria meant an automatic failure. Then – just as I was “next up” for the exam, we had to break for lunch! So, for the second day in a row, I’d hurriedly down a hasty lunch and run the exam on a full stomach. I ate lightly....
 
Following lunch, I took up a position in front of the drill tower door, anxious to finish the exam – anxious to BE DONE. I mentally reviewed the steps of each station again in my mind. One of the best pieces of advice we’d been given for these exams was to focus on doing one step at a time – do it, do it quickly and proficiently, and move quickly to the next station. Don’t get flustered, and don’t get ahead of yourself by worrying about 2 to 3 steps in advance – focus on the task at hand and do it quickly and well....
 
I started the rotary saw....it ran smoothly and without hesitation in the frosty air (about 10 degrees outside!). The saw bit briskly into the rebar rod that was securing the drill tower door. The stopwatch started timing the second the sparks started to fly from the rebar......Seven minutes and counting!!
 
The rebar was quickly cut.....I shut off the saw and walked briskly to the engine to pull the fan and electrical cord towards the drill tower door.....fan on and positioned – now, move to the hoseline and ready it for hoisting!!  I quickly tie the clove hitch and safety knot around the hose, and loop the rope through the nozzle’s bail, holding up the finished product for Mr. Deno to approve by a tacit, “GO!” I drop the hose and rope, remove my helmet and gloves, and don my facepiece, pull up my Nomex hood, and replace both helmet and gloves. I go on air, and step to the door of the drill tower. I am doing well, and feeling good, so as I hoist the hose bundle to my right shoulder (so I have my left hand free to hold onto the stair railing), I shout out a cocky challenge: “Try to keep up with me, Mr. Deno!!” Of course, he keeps up all too easily! 
 
I run through the doorway and run up the stairs to the 3rd floor (in turnout gear and SCBA, I imagine it appears to be more of a lumbering trot), but I am making good time. I reach the third floor without slowing down, drop the bundle, and throw the gated Y valve and hose over my left shoulder, and remove the cover from the standpipe connection. I make the connection to the standpipe, open the valve, and move quickly to the next station: the timed hose line. I pull the sixty pound hose across the floor (wrestle it, more like!), and get into a crouch to hold the hose line for the required 60 seconds.....I slow my breathing and catch my breath.....holding.....holding......holding.....finally, Mr. Deno counts down, “Five, four, three, two, one, GO!” I drop the nozzle and run to the fifth floor. One challenge left: hoist that big bundle of frozen hose up the side of the building and through the window.....
 
I reach the fifth floor and am feeling good....I brace my left foot against the window sill, and take the slack out of the rope....then I pull, pull, PULL. It comes up like a brick through wet sand, but it comes up. It gets easier towards the top (still don’t understand that, except for the weight of the rope), then finally, it is at the top!! I lower the bundle back down to the ground “hand over hand” (allowing the rope to slip through your hands is an automatic failure!). Finally, the bundle strikes the ground, and I race out the door and fly down the stairs to the ground level. The descent of the stairs can only be described as a controlled fall. The right hand acts as a pivot on the rail just before I reach each landing, while the left acts as a brake on the opposite rail just before each landing to keep me from crashing into the wall as I make the U-turn to descend the next set of stairs. The right hand then pulls me forward so that I essentially launch myself down the next set of stairs......Repeat 8 times and I’m off the stairs and pass through the entrance door!! The stopwatch marks the time: 5 minutes, 21 seconds! DONE! Four tests down, and all were successfully passed! The week from hell is over!
 
The last session of the day involved a lecture on hybrid and alternative fuel cars by Mr. Vrona. Included was a tour of his car, a hybrid. It was an informative and relaxing way to end the day and the week. I was looking forward to taking a night off from studying, and I felt happy and relaxed on the drive home. 2009 had finished on a high note!
 
I wish you all a very happy and safe New Year’s weekend, and a most prosperous and healthy 2010!
 
Tim

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