Saturday, February 14, 2009

My new best friend

Thursday Recruit Class:

"The gear we're about to issue to you is very expensive. It costs over $2000 to outfit every firefighter with their basic Personal Protective Equipment, and you must take good care of it. Clean it after every major fire or hazardous material cleanup, take care of it, keep it out of the sun, don't leave it in a truck bed where anyone could come up and walk off with it, keep the velcro clear of fuzz that will keep it from closing tight, always store it in the gear bag that comes with it. Take care of your gear, and in return it will take care of you when you are in a life-threatening situation. This is your new best friend."

What an exciting night thursday was. We each got handed a bag full of fire gear, and I was stoked about getting to play with it. Lucky for me, we were about to spend the rest of the 4-hour class just learning how to put it on properly.

A firefighter has to be able to go from street-clothes to being fully dressed and ready for action in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Many of the calls they run are time sensitive, and another few minutes can mean the difference between a kitchen fire and a house fire, a simple rescue and an injury extrication, life and death. Because of the tendency for emergencies to continue to get worse until someone arrives to stabilize it, the training that goes into something as simple as getting dressed quickly is intense. By the end of the recruit class, we need to be able to don all of our gear in under 60 seconds. That might not sound like it's too terribly difficult, but as clumsy and bulky as all the bunker gear is, I'm not suprised to know that the most common point of failure for a new recruit when they're testing for their certification is being unable to meet that 60 second mark.

So how do you train someone to do this stuff by muscle memory?

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

You get the idea.

Before we even got to start touching the actual bunker gear, we were split up into crews and taken into the equipment bay, and each crew had one instructor who led them through a mime of the entire process. Yes, a mime. It probably sounds silly, and you know what? It looks silly too. But believe it or not, by the time we got to touching the gear, we all knew exactly what to do.

Instructor (holding an imaginary gear bag): "Your bag is in hand. Set it down, open it up. Kick off your street shoes" (we all kick off our shoes).

Instructor: "Mistake one. We are miming. You all just took your shoes off for real. Put them back on and try again." (I don't think he was trying to be demeaning here, I think the point was being made early that accuracy and precision in all actions is important, and that if we miss we start over).

Instructor: "Gear bag is in hand. Set it down, open it up. Shoes off..." (Nobody actually took off their shoes this time) "..Boots out. Right foot in, left foot in. Pants up. Right suspender, Left suspender. Close the pants fly, and lock it..."(There's a small hook and eye device that backs up the velcro that holds the bunker pants shut. Of course, at this point we're just waving our hands in the air, but we got the idea)"...Where is your hood? Right pants pocket. Hood out, over your head..." (Firefighters wear a hood made of Nomex, a fire-retardent material, to protect their necks and shoulders from being exposed where the coat and helmet don't meet)"...Tuck the hood into your right suspender, then into your left suspender. Coat out of the bag, right arm, left arm, zip it up, close the storm flap, pull the collar around and velcro it shut. Helmet on, chinstrap tight. Where are your gloves? Left pants pocket. Gloves out, right glove on, left glove on. Done, now we're dressed."

This process took about 5 minutes to go through the first time. At that moment cutting it down to 60 seconds seemed like a pretty daunting task. Even in the time that I've been practicing putting this stuff on at home since I got the gear on thursday, my best time is 71 seconds, still eleven seconds short of what I need to pass.

We continue throughout the evening putting the gear on and packing it away under different circumstances. Most interesting was the discussion on POV response. For those not in the know, POV means "Personally Operated Vehicle". When I'm driving my car to a fire (not driving or riding on a firetruck), I'm a POV. Here's the interesting part: When you get a page that indicates a call you need to respond to, you drive to it, following all traffic laws, and yielding to all emergency vehicles. Just because you're driving to a fire doesn't mean you get to speed, blow intersections, pass people on non-passing roads, seize the right of way at a four-way stop, or do anything else other than drive normally. I'm sure that surprised at least one of the recruits in the class, but it makes sense when you think about it. Yeah, you need to get there so that you can help out, but how much help will you be if you blow an intersection and get broadsided by a semi truck? Your accident scene will actually consume more emergency response personnel who could be working on the incident you were driving to. Must be tough, though, when you're riding an adrenaline rush knowing that you're about to get involved in something serious.

Anyway, I think I'm going to head back to the living room and try to beat my current best time for donning this stuff.

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