My Day as a Cleveland Fire Fighter
by Barbara Anne Ferris

(Plain Press, November 2005) Last month I and 9 other citizens had the privilege to participate in the Cleveland Fire Fighters Citizen Training Academy. The purpose of the Academy was to provide citizens with an understanding of the depth of training needed to become a Cleveland Fire Fighter, plus an appreciation of what a Fire Fighter experiences on the job when responding to a box call.

 The Cleveland Fire Department has 40 companies and 904 Cleveland Fire Fighters. Last year there were over 56,000 incidents and nearly 87,000 responses with 10 fatalities. Cleveland Fire Fighters installed 4,659 smoke detectors and went through 26,000 training hours.

Essential training before a potential Cleveland Fire Fighter can pass the test and put on the blue uniform includes: Basic Medical Emergencies, Hazardous Materials Response and Abatement, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Gas Leaks, Fire Suppression, Hydraulic Rescue (Jaws of Life), Industrial Response, Flooding, Electrical Shorts, Emergency Vehicle Maintenance and Repair, and Transports, Fire Prevention Inspections and Enforcement, Station Maintenance and Upkeep, and Ice Rescue.

 Bomb Threats, Fire Investigation, Apprehension, Prosecution, Hostage Situation, Water Rescue, Confined Space Rescue, High Angle Rescue, and Advance Life Support Response are all specialized training for some members and not a requirement to get on the job.

 When I entered the Citizen Training Academy at 30th and Lakeside Avenue at 7:30 am, the first task of my day was getting a blood pressure check by a paramedic. I needed to be in good condition to put on an additional 40-65 pounds of clothing, and to hold and operate heavy equipment in the Burn Building, Hazardous Materials Building and Extrication exercises.

 Bob Fisher, President of the Cleveland Fire Fighters Local 93 and Chief Paul Stubbs welcomed us. Our teachers included Captain and Professor Emeritus Jerry Madden with 28 years on the job, Battalion Chief Chester Atkins, Battalion Chief Dan Moran, and Lieutenant Ronald James. During each phase of our training, they were assisted by many Fire Fighters who volunteered on their day off to help with the Citizens Training Academy. While it was a controlled situation throughout the day (we had fire fighters on either side of us for each training exercise), we stood on our own two feet when it came time to actually do the work.

 After our classroom instruction, we began the "practical" phase of the training.

 First I put on the boots, pants and jacket (which are quilted and heavy), then I went through the Rescue Squad 4 building and learned how they pack the equipment in a Fire Truck - it's in the same place so everyone can always find it. There is more equipment on a truck than at a Home Depot! And if they don't have a piece of equipment they need, they make it!

 I also learned that while the Coast Guard may respond to an emergency on the water, Cleveland Fire does the diving. Yes, there are selected Fire Fighters with advance training in underwater rescue. Imagine going under Lake Erie and it is pitch black, you can't see your hand in front of your nose, and you are searching for a victim. That is definitely a learned skill and Cleveland Fire has the most experienced divers!

 Next was the Extrication exercise, which was extraordinary. The situation: we arrived on the scene of an accident and the driver is pinned inside the car with life threatening injuries. Our job is to get the driver out of the car, provide emergency care and transport to the hospital. Working with a team of 3, I picked up the Jaws of Life (which weighs 70 pounds and is powered by a generator) and began to cut the frame of a car on the driver's side near the emergency brake. The goal is to cut the base of the frame so that the car angles up, the steering column moves away from the front seat and you have room to reach the injured driver. Thank goodness that I have been lifting weights all summer, because there is no way that I could have picked up a 70 lb. machine with two hands, turned it on with my fingers and held it at a 90 degree angle to cut the frame of a car without hurting myself or dropping it on my toes.

 Then I took an axe and began to cut the windshield being very gentle and meticulous to cut outward and away from the driver so the shattering of glass would not injure the driver. Then I used the biggest motored pliers I've ever seen to cut the roof of the car just above the windshield to pull the roof towards the back of the car to make sure that the paramedics had safe access to the injured driver. Yes, I cut a car in half!

 Next, I entered the Burn Building wearing full gear - boots, pants, jackets, a head cap to cover our hair and ears and neck, and our air tanks that weighed about 10 lbs - total additional weight was about 45 pounds. Once inside the building, two mattresses were set on fire because they burn hot and fast. We traced the path of the fire and were instructed how to get out of the burn building - down on our hands and knees and crawl to the door - because heat and smoke rise which could make it nearly impossible to walk out. The temperature of a fire can get up to 1,000 degrees.

 I got out of the Burn Building, soaking wet with sweat from head to toe, only to move on to the Hazardous Materials training phase. Before I put on a huge bright lime green one piece non-porous Haz Mat suit including the hood with a plastic window in the front of the helmet and attached gloves at the end of the sleeve, I had to put an air tank on my back with a mask over my face so I could breathe. That must have weighed 15 pounds. I also had to wear special plastic non-porous bright orange boots. As soon as we started moving towards the scene, my face mask completely fogged up and I could not get my hands out of my gloves to wipe off the fog. I could not see anything during this whole exercise - which is exactly what often happens to the Fire Fighters. We moved up to the second floor, collected samples of different hazardous materials, secured them in a plastic bag and made our way back down the steps - still unable to see anything. When we exited the building, we had to go through two "washes" to detoxify us of any hazardous materials that may have accumulated on our suits or boots. I gained a new respect for the challenges a Fire Fighter faces during a crisis or emergency situation because they don't have time to think of comfort - they are focused on aiding the victims. As a result, they put aside their own safety, comfort and well being for that of others.

 The one-day Fire Fighters Citizen Training Academy was a most humbling experience that gave me a much deeper respect for the training and work of Cleveland's Fire Fighters. I am now one of their biggest advocates and will work very hard to make sure that they have the necessary resources to do the job that we, the citizens of Cleveland, are asking them to do every day. Finally, what I really learned was that in any given crisis situation, I would prefer a Cleveland Fire Fighter on the scene over anyone else.


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