There are a lot of tough parts of my job, but nothing as hard as crawling through a smokey building, air tank on my back, trying to find a body.
That’s what I was thinking at about 10 this morning as I was going through the training for Minneapolis’ firefighters.
The scene I just described was one of three exercises we went through in full gear: heavy jackets and pants, boots, axe on my waist, helmet, mask and air tank. The firefighters training us led us into a burning building on our knees…you don’t stand up because it’s too hot. You have to keep your breathing steady so you don’t use up too much oxygen, but it’s not easy to stay calm when you realize you can’t see more than a a few inches in front of you, and you don’t know where you are going. The key is to keep following the wall with your right hand, so you can retrace your path on the way out.
After two tries we finally found the “body” (in this case it was a 180 pound dummy) but couldn’t pull it out before our oxygen ran out. With little air, I was led out of the fire by a firefighter, and thought how much trust they need to have as they help each other through life and death situations. I also thought this was really hard, and I knew this was a planned drill….I can’t imagine how hard it is when you are in a real fire.
The second exercise was to go into a burning building with a fire hose. Again, it was almost impossible to see in front of you, at least until you see the fire itself. I opened the nozzle and after a few minutes doused the fire.
The third exercise was CPR on a dummy. The CPR itself was tough enough, but our exercise was made more complex by having a hysterical family member second-guessing every move.
Afer a few hours of this my shirt was soaking wet. I had a lot of respect for firefighters before I did this. I have a lot more now.