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December 30, 2009:
Today’s big adventure was the completion of the Minnesota State Firefighter I certification exam!! The exam caused quite a bit of angst for the eight of our class who were taking it. The rest of the class had taken the exam before they entered the academy. I had taken the exam previously as well – back in the mid-1990s. I had passed a similar exam as well when I was a certified firefighter in Texas in the mid 1980’s. But, I had elected to retake the current state exam for several reasons: primarily because I felt that new technologies and procedures and new fire service functions (terrorism response, Rapid Intervention Teams, etc.) were not included in my past certifications – the service has changed, and I wanted to catch up on the new developments. Also, I wanted to walk the path of a typical firefighter recruit, and that journey would include taking the state test. I figured if I was going to go through the academy process, I wanted to go through the ENTIRE process.
I wasn’t really worried about the exam, but as I said, all of us who were planning to take it were a bit worried. We all wanted to do well. Chief Morehead and Captain Deno told us that no Saint Paul recruit had ever failed the test before, but as one of my classmates said, that fact just made the possibility of failing even more strenuous!
The written exam was 150 questions. 100 questions covered firefighter topics, and 50 questions covered hazardous materials response. Although many of the questions were tricky, they all came directly from the textbook, and all 8 of us passed (we received confirmation of this the next day from the state certification board).
The practical portion of the exam tested our proficiency in some of the basic firefighter skills. Our test covered 7 of those areas: PPE and SCBA donning, search and rescue, ladders, forcible entry, positive pressure ventilation, fire hoses, and a group hazmat tabletop scenario. Our academy hands on skills training had prepared us very well for the exam, and the practical portions were fairly easy. All of us passed and received confirmation of that success at the end of the exam.
The certification test took over 4 hours to complete, and we finished in time to have a hurried lunch before going through the Second Quarter Practical Exam practice session for a second time. I finished the Practical test in 5 minutes and 21 seconds – well under the 7 minute time limit.
The last part of the afternoon featured a visit by one of Saint Paul’s exceptional Engine/Medic companies: Medic 14, B-Shift. Paramedic Fire Captain Mark Dickinson, Paramedic FEO Chuck Schwartz, Firefighter/Paramedic Mike Cox, and Firefighter Rich Hinrichs demonstrated how a well-orchestrated medical team responds to medical emergencies. We have been focusing on firefighting basics, but have begun learning more of the medical aspects of the job. Medic 14’s demonstration helped our class understand what the roles and responsibilities of entry-level firefighter/EMTs were in the Saint Paul system. Their advice, their insights into crew coordination and communications, and their proficiency at delivering superior patient treatment was exceptionally well-timed in our academy process, and exceptionally well-executed. I volunteered to have them start an IV on me to show the class how that operation goes, and FEO Schwartz slipped in the IV needle so smooth and easy that I didn’t really think he had done it. He is GOOD! The rest of the team is just as good, and it was a great experience having them come in to help our class!
In lieu of physical training today, Captain Deno gave us a lecture on the benefits of lifelong aerobic training. He presented us with information on several good training programs and websites, including Crossfit.com and P-90-X. Included were some great tips on performing practical, inexpensive, firefighter skill training using exercises that could be easily replicated in the station or at home.