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.