Recently I was able to be a firefighter for a day. Well, not really a full-blown firefighter, but I did have the opportunity to participate in a Fire Ops 101, which is basically a slightly more timid, highly controlled training day for people who realistically have never even operated a fire extinguisher.
This particular Fire Ops 101 was a joint effort between the Lee’s Summit IAFF Local 2195 and the City of Lee’s Summit Fire Department. According to the International Association of Firefighters website, “[Fire Ops 101 is an event that] exposes participants to the smoke, the adrenaline rush, and the physical stress and strain fire fighters and emergency medical personnel face while protecting communities . . .” Let me tell you, this is an accurate description. Here are some of the things I took away from this awesome experience.
You have to move quickly, all the time.
I wouldn’t describe the entire day as a full-blown sprint, but it did seem as if I was participating in seven hours of interval training. Short periods of moderate to intense physical activity followed by short periods of rest, but we were always moving quickly. Frankly, we had to in order to keep up with the real firefighters. Just walking between the training stations was a small workout because I wasn’t used to wearing the gear.
The first thing I noticed about the gear was the weight. The firefighter responsible for our team told us that by the end of the day our shoulders and necks would be sore just from the weight of the jacket and helmet. Yep, he was right. So if just walking around at a quick pace is difficult for a newbie in all this gear, moving at a quick pace through the training evolutions was much harder.
Firefighters take care of each other.
The firefighter that was leading my team constantly had his head on a swivel. He was always checking and double-checking to make sure his team was whole. Even when we were just standing around drinking water, he made sure we were all together. Once, one of our teammates was separated from us for a few seconds after a water break. Our leader noticed immediately, while the rest of us simply continued to the next training evolution. “Wait, hold up,” he said. “We’re missing someone.” After the tardy teammate rejoined the group, I asked our leader about his protective mentality. I wanted to know if this was just something he was doing for that day or if there was something deeper at play, which I suspected was the case.
“As firefighters, we are never alone, like never,” he said. “It’s not safe to be alone. Even at the fire house if we’re in a room by ourselves it’s a little weird because it never happens. We’re trained to do everything at least in tandem to keep each other safe.”
Physical strength and stamina are key.
I consider myself a reasonably fit guy but I soon found out during Fire Ops that my workouts had nothing on the functional strength and stamina required to do the job of a firefighter. One thing the firefighters continually stressed throughout the day was that there was no fire, we didn’t need to push ourselves as hard as they would because we were not dealing with a life or death situation. But I wasn’t there to play dress-up, I was there to just get a little taste of their world. I was first to volunteer for everything and I pushed as hard as possible. I really wanted the full experience.
But it was hard. The tools are heavy, the boots are heavy, the helmet is heavy, and the air pack is VERY heavy. And, let’s be honest, I was just playing dress up. There was no fire. There were no consequences if I didn’t move fast enough or if I was too rough dragging the “victim” (150 lb. dummy) from the smoking building. I had no mental stress worrying about what would happen if I placed my foot in the wrong spot causing the floor to give way below me. But for the firefighters, there are real consequences if things go wrong. They have to be physically and mentally prepared to minimize the risk of mistakes that could get someone killed.
Possibly the greatest thing I took away from the Fire Ops was an admiration for how much pride these men and women have in serving their community. They truly have a calling and are acting on it every day. These firefighters really care about the citizens they serve and they take their responsibilities very seriously. They train hard so they can be ready to answer the call, to save lives, to keep us safe. I have always had a great respect for the firefighter profession, now I have a much deeper appreciation for what they do for us.