December 23, 2009:
Today’s class started off – as a lot of our days do – with a motivational or philosophical session with Chief Morehead. His enduring theme is “customer service” and being a public servant first and foremost. It is a theme close to my heart as well, and he never disappoints me in bringing great examples, “war stories,” or personal insights on how to become a more customer service oriented public servant. Today he discussed the recent suspension of several east coast Emergency Medical Technicians who failed to go the aid of a woman experiencing a medical emergency. Chief Morehead focused on the acronym “SCHIPP:” Service, Courage, Honesty, Integrity, Pride, and Professionalism – these are the characteristics he is trying to build (or bring to full bloom) in the fire recruits.
Our written test (normally held on Friday), was moved up to today, and covered the topics of Firefighter Survival, Vehicle Extrication, and Terrorism. Following the exam, our instructor, Bernie Vrona, presented a lesson on Blood Borne pathogens. It is significant to note that the last Line of Duty firefighter death in Saint Paul (Firefighter Ray Hain) was attributed to a blood borne pathogen.
The afternoon sessions focused on firefighter survival and rescue skills. The practical exercises reinforced several recent classroom lectures on firefighter survival, Rapid Intervention Team work (rescuing firefighters), and rescue operations. There were 5 stations, and the class divided into small groups to go through each station. Radio communication between instructors and student groups kept us all informed of “when to rotate” to a new training station. The five stations were:
· Stair carries (how to move an unconscious civilian victim – or fellow firefighter – up and down stairwells)
· Wall breeches (how to make a hole in a wall and successfully move yourself or a victim through the space between the wall studs)
· Disentanglements (how to successfully avoid being entangled by downed wires inside a structure – and how to extricate yourself if you become entangled)
· Ladder bails (emergency egress from a burning building onto a ladder)
· The “Denver Drill” (recue of a downed firefighter through a high, narrow window)
The afternoon was A BLAST! It was tough, challenging, and made me THINK. The importance of THINKING, not panicking, and using good body mechanics were repeatedly driven home throughout the afternoon. I love physical and mental challenges, and today’s skill training added a third major incentive: saving my own life or the life of another firefighter/civilian. A “triple whammy” as far as I was concerned!
The stair carry station really stressed proper body mechanics for lifting another person. In our exercise, a team of two of us carried another fire recruit up and down the stairway inside the Drill Tower. Take a 180 pound firefighter, add 50 pounds of equipment, and add another 25 for good measure to simulate the weight of the gear when it’s wet. So 2 of us were carrying over 250 pounds of “dead weight” up 5 flights of stairs! We did it without undue strain and no injuries, thanks to proper positioning, good body mechanics, and liberal use of a “Morehead Strap” – a long loop of nylon webbing we carry in our the pockets of our turn out gear (many fire departments have these straps, known by various names). The strap extends your reach and provides a handhold for lifting in a wide variety of situations. The key to body mechanics is to keep your back straight, lift with the big muscles in your legs, and coordinate your movements with those of your partner. Real success on the stairway came when one firefighter lifted from the top/back of the victim (using the Morehead Strap), and the other firefighter PUSHED from the bottom (put the victims legs over your shoulders, use your arms to lift them up to the next step, and use your legs to support and drive the victim’s weight). Looks funnier than heck, I’m sure, but it certainly moves the victim up the stairs in a safe, efficient manner!