I was fortunate enough to participate in a fun event called Fire Ops with the Lethbridge Fire/EMS Department. A few City employees and City Councillors went through a half day of basic fire fighter training to get a feel for what it is these men do. I say men because our services are combined and means all the men are trained in both Fire & Emergency Medical Services. Passing requirements to be a fire fighter are more difficult for women and I can see why- the gear alone (jacket, pants, boots, mask, helmet, oxygen tank) must weigh at least 50lbs. I was DYING trying to move around in all that gear.
We got to do four activities that day- rappelling, car extraction, fire fighting, and EMS.
I was shocked at how scared I was to do this activity! I have rock climbed before but when we got to the top of the stair case and looked down I got real nervous. It was a staircase that had large gaps in between stories, unlike a climbing wall which had a solid wall you could balance with.
When it was my turn to climb over the railing and put my weight on the rope I got scared and the guy helping us had to very nicely pull my hand off. Ha ha! But once I let go and felt the solid support of the ropes I was no longer scared and away I went and I loved it! I even went up for a second round.
I never really thought of it but fire fighters do A LOT of car extractions (scary thought) and we got to get a glimpse into what they do and the tools they use. They have this really awesome sticky tape thing that prevents the glass from shattering on the ground or the inside of the car. I got to use the cutter and the spreader (better known as the jaws of life) both of which are HEAVY!
This was the coolest and the scariest activity of them all. I am claustrophobic and putting that mask on without the oxygen was a real challenge for me. They made us put them on and listen to instruction for probably about 10 minutes. I was so close to freaking out several times but I took the deepest breathes I could and told myself over and over to stay calm because I didn’t want to look like a wimp in front of the fire fighters.
We got the tanks on and the oxygen going (tanks were so heavy they killed my bad back) and picked up the hose and headed in. We were practising a basement fire and we had to crawl in through the smoke and spray down the fire they would start on the ceiling and the wall. Yup, I got to use the big old hose to put out a fire, it was awesome! The steam is much hotter than the fire itself though you could feel the heat even through your gear. We went outside and prepared for the second exercise which was finding a victim. They handed me the axe (at this point my arms were dead) and we went back into the smoky building to crawl around the basement (hands against the right wall) to find our person. I had to drag that axe along and when we found the dummy, I grabbed a leg and drug it and my axe back up the stairs and out the building.
This was a great way to finish the day because we got to go inside the air conditioned classroom and learn about forcing open airways, drilling IV’s into legs bones and the many different medications and equipment our paramedics are armed with. I got to put in a mock breathing tube and jammed it in hard enough that I would have busted off the teeth of a real victim. Oops.
It was such an amazing day and who knows maybe a volunteer fire fighter career is in my future. Ha!