Lungs burning….legs like lead weights….arms completely limp….I cannot remember the last time I was this out of breath….I am guided off the Keiser Sled by Captain Deno, and barely manage to respond, “Yes, I’m all right!” to his question. He had warned us that if we didn’t answer him promptly, he’d be radioing “Dispatch” and requesting a medic rig response. (I had joking asked him to have one standing by in advance for me….it wasn’t so funny now!). He announces my time, and it’s less than 7 minutes! YES - SUCCESS!!
I’ve just completed a “practice” run through of the First Quarter Practical Exam that we’ll take “for real” this coming Friday. The exam tests our speed and proficiency conducting 7 basic fireground activities while fully dressed in our bunker gear and SCBAs. It is a physically demanding test – one that demands strength, endurance, and some fine motor skills. (That is the last time I’ll use the term “fine” to describe anything about this exam! J ). Recruits are required to complete all 7 activities correctly in less than 7 minutes.
The practical exam begins with the recruit dressed in bunker coat and pants, helmet, Nomex hood, boots, gloves, and SCBA. The SCBA mask is attached to our chest strap, and not on our face. The clock starts when we first touch a 4 inch supply line from the fire engine parked near the Drill Tower. In 7 minutes, the recruits must:
· “Back lay” a 4 inch diameter supply line (i.e. drag a supply hose to a hydrant) to a hydrant 100 feet away
· Connect the 4 inch hose to the hydrant, and open the hydrant (10 complete turns with a hydrant wrench)
· Walk 75 feet to the Drill Tower, turning on the air valve of the SCBA on the way, to a 35 foot extension ladder mounted to the side of the Drill Tower.
· Raise the extension sections of the ladder by pulling “hand over hand” on the rope halyard (by now I’m starting to sweat in the heavy turnout gear, and breathing is becoming heavier)
· Don air mask and “go on air,” then enter the Drill Tower stairwell. Take a 70 pound hose bundle to the 5th floor of the drill tower (under the watchful eye of that goofy looking fluorescent orange smiley face! I was doing OK until the 3rd floor, but my legs were really feeling heavy and limp by the time I got to the 5th floor)
· Carry the bundle back down to the 3rd floor. Drop the bundle and connect a gated “Y” valve to a simulated standpipe connection on the 3rd floor landing. (By now I am breathing very hard, and feel a bit claustrophobic in the mask – like I can’t quite get enough air. My legs are like rubber, and the standpipe connection takes a bit of finesse to complete).
· Pick up the 70 pound hose bundle and carry it down to the ground floor and exit the Drill Tower. Tie a Figure 8 and Safety knot into a rope, then hoist an ax waist high using those knots and a half hitch (not easy when you’re chest is heaving and your legs are shaking)
· Step over the Keiser Sled and drive a 150 pound (?) weighted sled 5 feet along a horizontal track using repeated blows from an 8 pound shot mallet. (This is a forcible entry prop designed to simulate the repeated ax blows needed to ventilate a roof or the repeated mallet blows needed to force open a door. It requires some technique, but also some incredible arm and wrist strength. I could barely lift my arms when done, and was really sucking down the air from my SCBA! Big, deep, lung-searing breaths. I was glad when my classmates helped me get my mask off and I was able to catch my breath again!).
If you are preparing to take the Saint Paul Firefighter entrance test in 2010, I urge you to prepare for the Keiser Sled! Check out the Firefighter recruiting page for more details about the testing process, how you can prepare for the physical testing process (which includes the Keiser!), and important timelines for application and testing success: http://www.ci.stpaul.mn.us/firefighter