Walk in Their Boots – Fire Ops 101
By Cherie Austin
You have heard that to know how someone feels, you need to walk in their shoes–or BOOTS, as it may be!
Fire Ops 101 is a program that gives the chance to the decision-makers in your community to live a day as a fire fighter. Such a day happened in our fire district last weekend–October 30, 2010. The fire board is the elected board members that typically meet on a monthly basis to get the reports by the fire chief on the details of finances, personnel, and budget projections. The board has to evaluate, make motions to be seconded by another member, and vote on the course of actions.
In this program the members of the board are all brought in, and fitted for their fire helmets, breathing masks, air tanks, fire proof coats, pants and boots. There is quite a lot of preparation to be fitted properly for all of this. The fitting of the masks is crucial so that the lungs are protected from the heat, and the breathing apparatus works properly.
Sitting at the fire station was a million dollar “burn trailer” that is used by 6 of the different fire districts here in Southern Arizona. It is a burn simulator with a control room that can simulate a house fire that reaches up to 550 degrees. It has hook-ups for fire hoses, and has grates inside that shoot out the flames that also travel up the walls, and overhead on the ceiling. It is quite an intimidating sight to say the least.
Most of the fire fighters from the district were also present last Saturday. They too were dressed in their heavy gear, as the board members got dressed and ready for a tough day.
The first hands-on demonstration was using the “jaws of life” tool to dismantle an old car. The board members were shown by one of the firemen how to start taking a side door off. They proceeded to the windshield, and the top of the car. Each member got to try out the tool and “clip” off door jambs, cut through the glass, and eventually had the whole top cut off the car.
After that, and a short break, the demonstration on the burn trailer roof was next. It raises up like a pitch of a roof, and has an area that has a sheet of plywood that can be changed each time it is cut. This is to teach how to use an ax and a chainsaw to cut through a roof. Each board member had to climb up a ladder, use an ax to chop a hole, and then use the chainsaw to make a big rectangle opening in the roof.
Besides the heat–it has still been abnormally hot here in Southern Arizona, still in the high 80s and 90s, (we are supposed to be around 77 by this time of year)–and wearing the very heavy coats and gear, one board member has a problem with heights. There were some pretty red-hot faces, and the member with the heights anxiety had to sit down and be monitored for a few minutes for blood pressure, etc. At least she was in the right place to have the help she needed with firemen and paramedics all around her. During the summer months, it is regularly in the 110 to 115 degree range here. The fire fighters still have to wear this very heavy gear even in that kind of heat. At least the board members didn’t have to endure that kind of extreme.
After the roof demonstration, came the really exciting (and very scary) part–going into the burn trailer in the midst of the flames whipping all around you, clear up over your head. Each member was accompanied by another fire fighter, and shown how to enter the trailer and move around inside. They were shown how to use a fire hose and spray the flames, and experienced how the spray turns to such hot steam that it can still penetrate all the layers of the protective clothing and burn the edges of your ears.
All-in-all, it was a very successful day. It was a real eye-opener to be able to watch, and experience what the fire fighters face at any one moment in their jobs. I cannot say enough about how exceptional these guys and gals are, taking on this kind of responsibility, and the physical strain of wearing that gear. All I can say is, you guys are great! And hopefully, I won’t need your services personally, but I do feel a great sense of relief, knowing that you are trained, and willing to go the extra mile when you are called. Many thanks to all of you!