Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hot seat

Remember that scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie's little brother, bundled up in a snowsuit, falls down on the way to school and can't get up? That's about what I felt like yesterday afternoon at a live burn training for Lincoln Fire & Rescue recruits.  The rookies helped suit me up, and into the burn house I went, where what seemed to be a pretty intense fire had been kindled.  Despite the Nomex hood, my ears were burning, and it had nothing to do with anyone talking about me.

I had never been in bunker gear before (hot, tight, heavy), and never used a self-contained breathing apparatus before (hot, tight, heavy, and slightly frightening at first).  I have a major fire phobia, and here I am--at 58 years of age--crawling on hands and knees into an inferno.  Geez, I took a baby aspirin this morning, who am I kidding?  In Round Two, the inferno was much more intense, but the experienced firefighters all reminded me that this was kids' stuff compared to a real fire, and that the combustibles in this exercise--all wood products--were quite a bit different from mattresses, upholstered furniture, carpeting, and so forth that would be encountered in the real deal.

Having survived a deadly real deal (barely) in 1964, I knew they were right.  Hence, my fire phobia.  I'm glad I did it, though.  It was informative, and in a strange way rather exhilarating--sort of like exorcising a demon that has dogged me for nearly 50 years.  Here's a few take-aways from the afternoon:

  1. I will never view a knot of firefighters standing around at a fire ground in the same way.  From this point forward I have a new appreciation for "rehab."
  2. The principle of "two in, two out" is crystal clear to me.  Even in a controlled training situation, I was mighty comforted to know that someone had my back, a feeling I have had on many occasions, though in a different uniform.
  3. It takes me at least 60 seconds to tie my necktie in the morning. Getting into your turnout gear in a minute is a feat I can hardly imagine.
  4. I was crawling into the burn house to watch.  Firefighters, on the other hand, have work to do in that gear: roofs to ventilate, power tools to operate, ladders to climb, strategies to execute, hose to drag.  It was about all I could do to drag myself.
  5. Relaxation really works:.  A little past experience in remaining calm in crisis helped me deal with the instinctive terror remarkably well.  To a certain extent, you really can convince yourself to stay cool in the hot seat. I have a feeling that this ability cuts both ways: it is at the same time both helpful and dangerous.
  6. Forced to choose between fire, heights, snakes, spiders, and public speaking, I'll deliver an speech with a tarantula on my head while handling a copperhead and balancing on a phone pole (are there still phone poles?), thank you very much.  
And thank you to the instructors and the trainees who helped me.  I wish you all well as your careers begin. Within a few months, you will have experiences and accomplishments that few people can even imagine, much less achieve.

Why am I suddenly craving a nice wild party call, a bar fight, 10th & Q, and a foot pursuit with a drunken chain smoker?


Anonymous said...

Hey chief, If you are the public safety chief, why are you always writing about firefighter stuff and not police stuff. Sounds to me like you have picked your favorite. just can't win, can you?

Tom Casady said...



I'm used to it.

Roseanne Scurto said...

Chief ~ So glad you got to experience the "live burn" training. No other way to really understand the total picture then being in it. Two kinds of fire fights, yet both so different from each other! As a person involved in fire service training (not with LFR) I say "Thanks" for supporting the fire service!

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up, Chief!