Mainly it's my knees that hurt. Not just inside but on the fronts too. My right hand seems oddly sore but I don't know why. My back is fine but that's because I've been keeping up with my core exercises. However, in thinking about the Fire & Rescue Ops event yesterday, it's been awhile since I had such a kick-ass day.
We were invited to the city's first "Fire & Rescue Ops" event a couple of weeks ago. We are over at the fire house from time to time working on their IT infrastructure and they very kindly invited us. It's a half-day program designed to give average Joe's like me some idea of what it takes to get this job done for our community. Let me tell you in all sincerity, the program is effective. You have to go through all of the steps and the guys there lead you through the whole thing: getting gear that fits right, getting your face mask "fit tested" so there are no leaks and just explaining everything.
When we got there in the morning, they got everyone hooked up with a professional fire fighter and they in turn helped you get all of your gear on and then positioned next to the rig that you were going to ride. There was a short safety briefing – when your wingman tells you to do something, do it – and then a tour of the facility.
After about 10 minutes of touring the Fire Station, The chief came through the door and told us to get our gear and get going! People running everywhere. We were dispatched to deal with a multiple-vehicle accident that was staged in the parking lot of Metz Middle school. I was stationed on the tower truck with 6 (!) other guys in the back of the cab. (If there's anything cooler than riding through town on a fire truck, I'm unsure what it is.) We get to Metz and there are two cars that look like they've rammed into each other. Each car has at least one person in it. I ended up helping get a person out of a car and then riding in the ambulance while doing CPR. For the record, It is one hell of a lot of work. CPR is demanding and you start to get a bit sloppy after 4-5 minutes of work. Also, you can't use two hands. The ambulance is moving so you have to hold on to a rail above your head while doing chest compressions with the other. I think if you were part of a trained crew it would go much more smoothly but it is still a lot of work. We also had the added convenience of knowing that the crash test dummy we were working on wouldn't actually die. He also wasn't bleeding, screaming or struggling. Quite polite in that regard.
After we got that wrapped up we took a ride out to the PWC Public Safety training facility. There's an enormous "burn building" out there that they set on fire and use for training. It's solid block and concrete so it doesn't actually burn but they do a pretty good job of making it feel that way. The first thing we did was to breech a door. You take this heavy iron called a "Halligan bar" and use it to lever a door open. It's remarkably effective and I think you could go into any building with relative ease. Except steel jambed doors which might require a little more work. Then we climbed about 40 feet up the tower ladder. Again, a fair amount of work to get up there and not something you want to do if you have a heights thing. They take you on the roof and explain how and why they ventilate fires. If you're a science type, it seems counter-intuitive but it does work.
After all of that, it was on to the big tamale: putting out a fire and doing a search in a smoke filled room. When your officer tells you get get suited up and prepared for inspection you start to get pretty nervous. You see the other guys who have already been into the building but now it's your turn. Everyone lines up for inspection, your wingman checks you out and fixes stuff that you got wrong and then you're off to start hauling hose off the Engine. That wasn't bad, we didn't have to haul too much hose nor did we have to take it very far. The Engine operator charged the hose and we lined up for entry into the building. Two of us picked the hose, now full of water, up and off we went. The hose is not very heavy but it is rigid. I can't imagine having to actually drag that thing up a stairway or around a corner. All 4 of us holding on to the hose, Into the burn building we went.
So, first things first: when you go in, it's dark and disorienting. Not hand in front of your face dark but nearly so. Your regulator is hissing as you suck in air. You're trying to control your breathing. People are bumping into each other (not the pros, just us). It is hot but tolerable. Despite the room being about 450 degrees, you do not really feel the heat. That surprised me. You're on your knees because if you stand you can feel the difference in temperature. Remember back in elementary school when they told you to get down low in case of a fire? They weren't fooling. Even the pros are on their knees or they're duck walking.
The room we made entry to is small but we all fit easily. It has an interior doorway through which we see the fire. The first person on the hose "puts out" the fire. Knocks it down really but then the fire quickly gets re-built. I was the last person on the hose so I had to wait awhile in that heat. As it turned out, I was the last person of the day. They asked if I wanted to do a search in the fire room. I did, and so into the fire room I went (with 2 professionals close at hand). You have to crawl on all 4's or duck walk. You can actually see in this room because of the fire but it is hot. Much hotter than the adjacent room. I could feel the heat through the nomex but not so much through the jacket. You've got that helmet on so you can't really look "up" too far or it bangs into the tank on your back. The tank is heavy but not unbearably so. The fire in the room consists of straw and wooden pallets so it builds very quickly so you have to do your search and get out. I don't know for sure but I'd guess it was better than 600 degrees in that room. I hurriedly crawl out and assume my position on the hose. "Put it out man!" I crack open the valve and out the fire goes. The water pressure is incredible. If you don't have the hose under your arm I think you'd lose hold of it. That would probably end poorly. I lurch to my feet and walk out.
Everyone is outside at this point. Hood off, tank off, jacket off. My shirt is drenched in sweat. It's running off my head. Down 2 bottles of water. The career guys are circulating amongst us advising us to hydrate. Checking on everyone. After about 15 minutes I'm freezing because I'm drenched so I put the jacket back on. My officer comes up "you want to do a search?". "Not really". eyeballs…."ok." I suit back up and off we go but back into the second floor of the burn building.
Inside the door. It's dark but entirely so. We have to go up a flight of stairs to get to the search area. The light fails as we go up and when we get to the landing it's entirely dark. You have to keep your right shoulder on the wall when you search or you will get lost. It isn't hot up here but it is entirely smoke-filled. You can't see anything at all. Nothing. I'm crawling along with my shoulder on the wall and my helmet clangs off the wall in front of me. I was completely surprised that the wall had turned 90 degrees. My knees are killing me and I fall behind my lead. A brief moment of panic. Settle my breathing down and I decide to duck walk (standing is too dangerous. You will trip and fall). I catch up to the lead and everything else is ok. Since we're the last group to go through, they push the windows open. The room is a small square. I can tell you in all honesty I had no idea what that room looked like while I was crawling through it.
And with that, it was over. I can't thank those guys for inviting us enough. The Fire & Rescue staff (volunteer and career) were just incredible. It must have been a real chore putting up with 20 bumbling civilians but I never felt like they were doing anything but enjoying themselves. I'm sure it was kind of frustrating for them occasionally but we felt welcome all day long. It took a lot of work to put that event on and I really enjoyed it. These guys are serious people and that was a serious event. It did give me a new appreciation for the job those folks do. Even a simple car crash is a lot of work and they run 15 medic calls a day! Just an incredible group we have.
Thanks to Kevin Schafer and the crew for their hard work.