Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adventures in the Fire Department with Ann Voss Peterson

I had such a great experience in my local citizen’s police academy (see my previous blog entry), I signed up for the fire department citizen’s academy. And what an adventure I had!

Week One: Intro, Tour and Turn-Out Gear.
We started with trucks and ended with fashion. After a presentation by the chief, we took a tour of the fire station, including a peek inside all those trucks. The array of equipment is really quite amazing, including ladder trucks, pumper trucks and even an ATV. Then the fashion show began. We each were issued turn out gear! Yep, the pants and coats, the boots and helmets, not to mention gloves and face masks. As you can see from the photos, I’m ready to strut down the runway.
Week Two: Search and Rescue!
This week we had to put those fancy duds to use. We started by learning how to use SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus–just like SCUBA, without the underwater part). Then we practiced searching for downed victims. In two person teams, we started with a dark apartment to get the techniques down, then moved to an apartment filled with so much smoke, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. At the end of the night, we entered the same room using thermal imaging cameras, and I can tell you, they make search and rescue a breeze. No fire department should be without them! I ended up with bruised and blistered knees and a healthy appreciation for the amazing obstacles firefighters must overcome.

Week Three: Fire Investigation
A wealth of information for a writer! We started by learning about how fires burn and the clues they leave behind. Then we had to put our new knowledge into practice. After splitting into two teams, we were each given a burned room to process, making notes of our observations, taking pictures of the evidence and interviewing firefighters posing as residents. Once we compiled all of our evidence, we had to explain how the fire started and whether it was accidental or a possible arson.

Week Four: Extrication (AKA Destroying Cars) You didn’t know a firefighter’s job includes destroying cars? Well, it does if someone is trapped inside. This week we used hydraulic cutting and spreading tools to remove doors, roll back dashboards and cut off roofs. I truly never thought I’d enjoy destroying cars, but it was a blast. Also a lot of work. I was sore for days. The tools are powerful but heavy.

Week Five: Firefighter Skills
Firefighter training camp. This night, we moved from station to station, learning some of the different skills firefighters must master in order to do their jobs. I jumped on the chance to repel down the hose tower. But once clinging to the platform looking down at the concrete floor below, my body decided it didn’t want to let go and hang on that flimsy little rope. I’m happy to say I conquered my fear, and then repelled down the tower as many times as I could. Some of the other skills we practiced were: using fire extinguishers, handling hoses, ventilating a roof with an axe, climbing ladders and entering the second floor of a house in full gear, and forcible entry and exit. We also learned how portable tanks are used to hold water to fight rural fires.

Week Six: A Visit with the Police
As we visited the fire department as part of the police academy, we visited the police department as part of the fire academy. It was fun to see old friends, and even though I’d toured the police station before, I still learned many new details my readers will see in upcoming books!

Week Seven: Ice Rescue
Since we have many lakes and ponds in the area, my local fire department must be prepared to rescue people who have fallen through ice. But I had no idea how much specialized equipment was involved in ice rescue. We donned watertight rubber suits and learned to paddle an lightweight pontoon raft to a victim, secure the victim to the raft, and signal the rest of the crew to pull us to shore. Afterwards we rode the aerial ladder and practiced with our SCBA gear to prepare for the final week.

Week Eight: The Big Burn (AKA Trial By Fire)
I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about trying out my training in a live fire situation. But once we started, I felt thoroughly prepared for everything we faced. After touring the live burn training structure, we sat in a room with a wood and paper fire while the chief demonstrated fire rollover and smoke stratification. Then we took turns damping down the fire by spraying the hose on the ceiling above. It was a good thing we wore all that gear and our SCBA since the temperature in the room soared over 700 degrees!
Once the entire three-story structure was hot and filled with smoke, we practiced our search and rescue techniques on the upper floors. This time we wore knee pads, but my knees were still a bit scorched from the heat. The experience was intensely hot and challenging, and one I will never forget. A fitting culmination to an amazing adventure!

If you'd like to check out more pics, click over to my website,!

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