A couple of weeks ago or so I read an article in our local paper talking about how our local fire department, which is all volunteer, was looking for daytime firefighters.
I then read a similar article in another newspaper.
I then drove past the fire department where their sign said “taking applications for daytime volunteers”.
So I applied.
Despite having no experience what-so-ever.
And honestly as crazy as it seemed, it also felt like one of the most natural things I have ever done.
Yesterday was the agility test.
I don’t know if you know a whole lot about what it takes to be a firefighter, but I can tell you this – it looks a whole heck of a lot easier than it actually is.
Firefighter Agility Test
There were 6 stations setup for the candidates. There were 4 of us, and actually one of those 4 was another woman which was awesome. We ended up only doing 5 of the stations because of local thunderstorms and they weren’t going to risk extending the truck ladder and potentially having one of us struck by lightning. Despite the difficult nature of the test, they wanted us to pass, not die.
I had chatted with the fire chief prior to the test so I knew *somewhat* what to expect, but you can’t ever understand what it’s like until you do it. And part of the challenge isn’t just the physical acts, it’s doing it wearing gear that limits your range of motion and adds weight and thickness to your body.
Fire Hose Stack
This was the first event I did. I had spent all of 3 minutes wearing that gear ahead of time and had just put the helmet on. You have no idea how much those helmets weigh!
This station required you to pickup a roll of house, carry it to the truck, step up on the truck, set the hose down, then go back and repeat for a total of 4 hose rolls. You then had to put the hoses back.
I did not expect to be so limited in my range of motion. Bending down was difficult (partially because of gear that was a little too big) as was lifting my leg up to get onto the step. In hindsight I would have done some stretching IN the turnout gear before trying this to understand the limits the suit restricted me to. I also would have moved a bit faster on the way back, but the weight of the helmet was disorienting at first. I was afraid to move too fast.
Blind Mask Crawl
This station required you to wear a blacked out mask with only a small hole to breathe through. You are blind, wearing said mask, full turnout gear with helmet AND a breathing apparatus on your back. Talk about GEAR. I knew this exercise would be a problem for me, I am not good with feeling like I can’t breathe.
This is me and one of the awesome firemen trying to reassure me that I would actually be able to breathe with the mask on. Check out his arms.
They lead you to a doorway where you get down on your hands and knees and follow a fire hose through the building with your hand, out to the other side. It’s supposed to take no more than about 5 minutes.
I panicked about 1/4 way in and came back out.
They let me try again.
I decided to wait and see how I did on the other events before wasting their time and putting me through more emotional stress.
Dry Hose Drag
This event looks soooooooooooooo easy.
You basically drag an empty hose a set distance, then bring it back.
The friction of that hose on the ground gets you. I think if I had known to trust the hose to keep me from falling forward and leaned into it more I would have been a bit faster. My thighs were screaming though.
Charged Hose Drag
The delusional part of me hoped that the shape of the hose actually made this one easier than the dry hose drag.
This hose was connected to a firetruck, had a super huge, heavy nozzle on it, and was filled with water or “charged”. I had to drag it past the firetruck about 100+ feet.
First of all, because of the location of the truck, I started with it on the wrong shoulder. I am left handed and needed it on the left. If you noticed, I got halfway there NO PROBLEM. Then I get a spasm or something in my back. And had to switch sides. But I broke the cardinal rule for this event – don’t stop moving. And it was next to impossible to get the momentum back. It took forever and a day, but I got it to the end.
This is actually an easy activity, and one I could do on a normal day with no problem. All you had to do was lift a single ladder off the truck, set it against the building, then take it down and put it back on the truck. I have moved an upright piano before – alone, across a room.
A single metal ladder is no problem.
By this point, I had very little feeling left in my arms. I knew my strength was tapped before I even started. I also didn’t realize that I could let the bottom of the ladder slide into the building because in the demo they didn’t. But is was rainy and slippery. So I wasted some time and energy trying to get the bottom setup the way I thought it needed to be.
Blind Mask Crawl Revisited
At this point they asked me if I wanted to do the crawl again.
And I said I didn’t want to waste their time if I didn’t pass the other events.
At this point the chief consulted with another fireman (looking at my events and the times recorded for them) and came back and told me that this is a critical piece and that if I can do it, they would encourage me to try again. I took that to mean that my results so far were positive.
So then I stalled.
And I am not sure I would have went through with it if I didn’t have morale support. My friend Amy from Coffee Luvin’ Mom came to cheer me on and take pictures and video. She and I have actually known each other since like third grade. Ironically we ended up as adults living in the same town and then a few years later coincidentally moved an hour away TO THE SAME TOWN. It was great to have her there to talk to and support me.
After a bit I decided I was ready and donned the gear again.
One of the fireman who was walking with me as I crawled along started talking to me as I made my way through and it helped me get past that initial panic that I had that made me feel like I couldn’t breathe.
I finished the course without too much of a problem!
Truck Ladder Climb
I was actually looking forward to this part, but as I mentioned, the storm kept them from risking a possible lightning strike.
It will be rescheduled.
I don’t know for sure whether or not I passed the rest of the events, but regardless of the outcome I am absolutely glad I tried. I might even do it again if I didn’t pass and they let me. I challenged myself to do something way outside of the norm, and I followed through and gave it my all. Through it all I have more confidence in myself and a very high respect for firefighters, especially volunteer firefighters.
They put their lives on the line- for no pay – in a physically demanding job and I never realized how difficult it was until I literally walked in their boots, wearing their equipment.
And they were all so very supportive and encouraging.
I just hope I did well enough for them to let me climb that ladder!