Kentucky Rookies Learn Highs, Lows of Firefighting

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) -- The schedule one morning called for lying low in an enclosed room with a raging fire, where temperatures would reach more than 500 degrees. The afternoon called for climbing to the top of a 109-foot ladder to man a nozzle spewing about 1,000 gallons of water per minute.

Training to become a firefighter is not just about fighting fires, and learning on the job as you go is as obsolete as a horse-drawn water truck.

David McCrady, training instructor for the Owensboro Fire Department, said preparation has expanded over the years with the addition of the EMT training and higher standards.

Four new Owensboro firefighters are learning all that firsthand.

``It's the best job you could ever think of - getting paid to help people,'' said rookie Trey Davidson, 24.

Training began Oct. 11 for the new firefighters, who will complete about 15 weeks of training before being sent out on the streets. That encompasses more than 400 hours of firefighting training and 160 hours of basic emergency medical technician training.

Emphasis is placed on repetition.

``We're really instilling in them that it needs to be second nature,'' McCrady said. ``We need to make sure they get this part of it right so they can get in that truck and be ready to go make that call.''

One of the most challenging parts of training so far for 26-year-old Brad Blandford has been getting used to wearing an air mask, which completely covers the face and can make one a bit claustrophobic, he said.

On the second day of training, the rookies began using the self-contained breathing apparatus, which can provide about 40 minutes of air if a person is breathing normally.

Sitting in a darkened classroom while McCrady made a presentation about the basics of what goes on at a fire, the rookies were required to watch while breathing from their air tanks. Periodically, the safety alarms attached to the systems would go off when the rookies would sit still for too long. The motion-sensor alarms are designed to alert firefighters if another firefighter has become incapacitated.

A break from the air tanks was followed with a dress-out drill, in which the rookies would have to get all their gear on with no skin showing and their air tanks engaged as quickly as they could. As their training progresses, they should be able to dress out in a little more than a minute.

``We do that so they can be comfortable with it,'' McCrady said.

Twice in a week in late October, the new firefighters were subjected to their first fires, which they faced in a specially designed room lined with fire-resistant materials. In the room, they learned how fires behave, how they build up and die down, and how quickly smoke can accumulate in a closed space.

``It's kind of like being at a bonfire, but you're having it in your living room,'' Blandford said.

The rookies will be involved in at least one ``burn'' each week during training, with more being required of them as time goes on, Battalion Chief Danny Froehlich said.

``I want them to know what it feels like to be in a fire,'' Froehlich said.

Jake Martin, 23, comes from a firefighting family. His grandfather, Randall Martin, was a former fire chief, and his uncle, Ray Best, is with the department.

Creating a sense of realism is important during training, McCrady said, but it is also one of the most difficult goals to accomplish. Training today is much more rooted in the classroom and practical exercises, he said.

``It used to be, you started, they gave you your gear, pointed out an officer and said, 'Go with him,' `` McCrady said. ``You have a good officer, you get good training.''

Though there is more classroom work these days, McCrady said, ``you can only do so much with book learning.''

``The important part is to go out and apply what you learn,'' he said.