Day 13 - First Quarter Practical Exam

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
 
The practical exam “practice session” was just one of the many highlights on this – the 13th day – of the Recruit Academy.  In the morning classroom sessions, we discussed SOPs relating to job-related injuries and uniforms. We also reviewed the textbook chapter on Building Construction. Our Hennepin Technical College instructor, Mr. Bernie Vrona, excels at presenting material in a manner that provokes thought and provides a thorough review of the material we are reading about away from the classroom. Last week we played, “Tell me something I don’t know about ladders” – every student in the class had to provide Bernie with something “Bernie didn’t know” repeatedly until we had covered most of the salient points regarding nomenclature, care and maintenance, safety rules, and operational use of ladders. It was a unique “game” atmosphere that really did a very thorough job of covering the material and engaging our brains and our interest!
 
Today, Bernie challenged teams of 3 in completing a 20-point quiz on building construction. The quiz was so challenging that it took the groups a long time to complete the assignment. Bernie supplied both the questions and the answers, and we had to “simply” match them up. The choices were not, however, clear cut, and an understanding of the nuances between different building types and construction materials was vitally important to success on the quiz. The result was a very detailed review of the chapter on Building Construction from our textbooks. The “quiz approach” was an excellent way to challenge adult learners, hold their interest, and cover a lot of material in a short amount of time.
 
The class gained some hands on experience in rolling up and storing fire supply and attack hoses, and we practiced tying knots and hoisting equipment on the fireground. We also were interviewed by Training Officer Hawkins, Mr. Vrona, and Training Chief Morehead. The interviews provided recruits with some direct and personal feedback from the instructors, and allowed the recruits to provide input on the process and progress of the academy so far. I was glad to hear the instructor’s feedback on my progress in class so far.
 
We finished the day with an intense hour of Physical Training. The practical exam session today gave all of us the motivation to “kick it up a notch” in the physical training hour. I worked a lot on the Keiser and the arm-building exercises (ladder raise, log chopping, etc), and the log pulling (which simulates back laying a supply line). The final “event” of the PT session was to don full turn out gear again, go “on air,” and climb to the 6th floor of the Drill Tower and practice moving an unconscious firefighter using carries and drags. 
 
I was sore and drained by the end of the session, and did not do my typical evening workout after class tonight. I’d been in the habit of supplementing our daily PT with additional workouts after hours at home – mostly light workouts to stretch out muscles and brisk walks to keep limber and burn calories. Not tonight….I was simply too wiped out. Instead, I spent the evening meeting with various fire department employees on a variety of topics, gathering input and recommendations, and listening to their ideas and frustrations. Every firefighter I’ve spoken to has been supportive of my participation in the academy, and I share with them my every-increasing admiration for their physical toughness. Firefighting is a demanding job, and I am continually amazed by how heavy and cumbersome the equipment is and what incredible stamina and strength it takes to be successful at this job. I have gained a new level of perspective on this job and this career, and so I’m reaching some of the objectives I set for my participation in the academy already. I’m sure the next 10 weeks will enrich my perspective even more!
 
Everything we did during the PT hour today has direct application on the fireground, and can be easily replicated inexpensively “at home.” I highly recommend a similar approach if you want a great “full body” workout, you are preparing for a firefighter test, or you want to stay proficient at firefighting physical conditioning.
 
Thanks again for joining me “On Scene” at the Saint Paul Fire Department Recruit Academy! I hope you’ll continue to follow along as my classmates and I work towards certification and graduation!
 
Tim

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