It's early Monday, and I'm looking forward to academy classes resuming this morning after a 4 day Thanksgiving break. Classes this week will focus on Ventilation (getting the smoke and heat out of the interior of a burning building so fire crews can work more safely inside), and Building Construction. The afternoon practical sessions will focus on donning all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) in less than 90 seconds and our "First Quarter Practical Exam" (a combination of physical skills like hoisting equipment from ropes, climbing stairs with full PPE/SCBA donned while carrying a 60 pound hose bundle, connecting supply hose to hydrants, etc). The Practical Exam is also a timed event. These timed practical tests are designed to ensure we can conduct basic fireground operations quickly and proficiently.
Knowing that these practical exams were in the curriculum, I didn’t want to take 4 days off from physical and practical training. So, after enjoying a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with family (thank you, Mike and Mary!), I went to the Fire Training Center on Friday and Saturday morning for a 90 minute workout. I was joined by about half a dozen of my academy classmates for these voluntary sessions. We set up a variety of practical skill “stations” around the base of the training center’s 6-story “Drill Tower.” These stations included such activities as: chopping with an ax, chopping with an ax on a slanted roof, opening and closing a fire hydrant, raising a 35 foot extension ladder, stair stepping, water supply hose pulling (“back laying” a supply line in the vernacular of the fire service), sit ups/push ups, and lifting weights with a pike pole (simulating using this fireground tool to access hidden spaces above a ceiling or inside a wall).
The Drill Tower itself is a great facility at our training center. It is 6 stories tall and made of reinforced concrete. There is an interior stairwell on one side of the tower, a room on each level, balconies on several levels, and a flat roof. A wide variety of training activities are preformed in and on the tower, including search and recue, rappelling and rope rescue, ventilation, ground and aerial ladder work, and lots and lots of physical training. “Running the stairs” is a great workout and a favorite (and central) theme of all practical conditioning and testing. The stairway has been adorned with several spray painted smiley faces and slogans (“Just do it!”) as added encouragement to firefighters and recruits needing an extra boost of support from the training staff! I must say, I never take much notice of the smiley faces, because I’m too busy ensuring I don’t miss a step while trying to see through steamed up bifocals and running at full tilt! I do have to chuckle though at the thought of our training staff grinning sadistically and wielding their fluorescent orange spray just to “encourage” us to work harder – their evil laughter seems to echo in the stairwells as we climb, climb, climb….then run back down at full speed – barely in control over gravity.
The workouts on Friday and Saturday were voluntary sessions, and each recruit performed whatever activity or activities they most wanted to work on. My workouts mirrored the physical training hour we typically complete at the end of each academy day. I started with a 1 mile warm up run, then sprinted to the 6th floor of the tower….30 pushups….sprint down the stairs to the ground level….20 chops with the ax with both left and right hands….raise a 35 foot ladder twice…..10 turns of they hydrant wrench to the left and 20 to the right….run a lap around the training center (about a quarter mile), and then repeat the process over again, except sprint to the 5th floor of the tower this time and mix in 4 different activities before running the lap.
I worked my way on subsequent “circuits” down the tower from the 6th floor to the 3rd floor, and then worked back up to the 6th floor a floor at a time until I finished 90 minutes later. During the complete session I ran several miles round the facility, ran the stairs repeatedly, and conducted dozens of practical exercises at the “stations” around the base of the tower. By the end of 90 minutes, I was ready for a break! My legs and lungs felt really pretty good, but my arms and shoulders were aching. I rounded out the weekend workouts by adding in grip-strengthening exercises and a walk around Lake Phalen on Sunday night with Sue, pumping arm weights the whole way. This morning I feel a satisfying ache in my arms….I cannot wait to see how they feel this afternoon in the physical training period!
One of the great things about our academy training program is that the recruits are constantly being exposed to the firefighting crews (“companies”) from Saint Paul Fire! Every day we have a crew assisting with the practical sessions, and their expertise, insights, and encouraging words are a great addition to the curriculum! And we ran into several this weekend as well – crews and individuals using the exceptional facilities at our Training Center and putting in the extra effort to be successful on the fireground! I admire their willingness to go the extra mile to stay in shape, train for their practical exams (part of a 3-year apprenticeship program after graduating from the fire academy), and practice fireground activities with their company personnel.
This weekend, we ran into Doug and Pat practicing their apprenticeship tests. We helped the crew of Ladder 10 shift equipment from their regular apparatus into a reserve rig on Friday morning. Ladder 20’s crew came to the Drill Tower on Saturday to practice aerial ladder operations as a crew. The interaction with these great men and women is like the icing on the cake, all of them are enthused about their job and the impact they make in citizen lives everyday!
Thanks for reading this morning….I hope you all enjoyed a safe and blessed holiday weekend. Have a safe and enjoyable day!