LIMA —A day-long fire operations training course designed to introduce civilians to the stresses that fire fighters and emergency medical technicians face had its intended effect on those involved. Participants — including this reporter — said they came away with a greater appreciation for the special skills of firefighters and their unique needs.
“There’s a lot of teamwork required,” said Mayor David Berger, who was one of 11 people who took part in Fire Ops 101 at Apollo Career Center on Thursday. “They not only have to be individually proficient, but they have to have a real ability to work together.”
Councilor Rebecca Kreher, 4th Ward, said the scenarios she took part in will inform her decision making in the future.
“This is a great opportunity to understand what they do, what they experience, so as a council member, when they come to council and say, ‘We need X amount of dollars,’ we know exactly what those dollars are going towards,” she said.
‘This is nothing special’
The course was broken down into four parts: an emergency medical scenario in which a person was in cardiac arrest; a search and rescue scenario requiring going into a smoky apartment to find four victims; an extraction scenario at a car crash scene that called for heavy tools to break apart a vehicle; and the riskiest manuever, a live fire scenario in which particpants crawled toward a wood-fueled fire in a cement enclosure and doused the flames with water.
“This is nothing special,” said Lima’s Fire Chief Mark Heffner. “This is what we do every day.”
Fire Lt. Doug Corwin, who also serves as Apollo’s public safety manager, said we were lucky it was a cool day, with light rain and temperatures near 60 degrees.
“Even on a winter’s day, you’re inside that gear for a while, you’re going to get hot,” he said. “The same material that protects us from the heat coming in keeps the heat in as well.” He urged us to drink lots of water.
Fire Ops 101 is a first for the Lima Fire Department, but the concept of putting civilians through a day of firefighter training is not. Fire officials say such “fire colleges” have been around since 2001. Participants were separated into three groups and were to take turns at each station. Firefighters took each person’s pulse and blood pressure. One firefighter noted the readings were coming in high.
Chalk that up to fear of the unknown, fueld by the knowing comments from firefighters who were relishing the chance to show us what their workaday lives were like.
“Since this is the first time we’ve presented this event, there’s no guarantee it’s going to go as planned,” said Chief Heffner, drawing nervous laughs from us guinea pigs and guffaws from the seasoned smoke eaters. “But I guarantee you’ll have interesting stories to tell afterwards.”
‘A lot faster than Hollywood’
Here are the stories I have to tell.
There’s a lot of fidgeting with buckles, clips, straps and Velcro. It took me 10 minutes to get my firefighting outfit on; firefighters train to do it in less than a minute.
It gets claustrophobic, sitting in a 300 degree room with a mask over your face, goggles over your eyes and a fire burning five feet away from you. So much so, I had to leave the exercise early.
And your own heart rate hits full gallop pretty quickly when you’re performing CPR, which requires chest compressions of 100 to 120 beats per minute in order to be effective.
That’s like doing CPR to the tune of the BeeGees’ classic disco hit, “Stayin’ Alive.”
“This is a lot faster than what you see on Hollywood,” said Rich Deubler, an EMT. “It’s exhausting.”
It also has a far lower success rate than automatic CPR machines like the $15,000 AutoPulse Zoll, purchased by the LFD six months ago. Firefighters say it leads to the restoration of a heart beat 95 percent of the time, compared to less than 10 percent for human-driven CPR.
“People are like, ‘Fifteen thousand dollars for a piece of machinery that does what you can do? For free?’” said firefighter David Coulter. “Yeah, I can do it. But I’m not getting the same outcome.”
And those outcomes can make the difference between a life saved and a life lost, for firefighters and the people they’re trying to help.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.