Westport 9/19/09

I've promised to share some of my experiences in Firefighter 1, the training class I've been taking since August, and this is probably a good time to do so. Last week was chock-full of valuable "hands on" exercises in full PPE-personal protective equipment, which means turn-out gear plus air pack.

Normally, we meet at the Keeseville Firehouse, but last week we met for one evening's class at the old school building in Willsboro, which has been abandoned and thus makes a perfect place for training. Inside, our instructors had built mazes out of two-by-fours and plywood in three different rooms, including the gym.

To simulate a smoke-filled environment, we were blindfolded over our facemasks. Using touch and hearing, in teams of two we carried out searches and wall breaches (when a firefighter has to break through an interior wall to escape a hazardous environment), crawling on hands and knees through the mazes and probing for victims or obstacles with a hand tool. Communication with your partner was a big part of getting this right. We also practiced disentangling ourselves from wire, "bailing out" of a window, and escaping from a structure by following a hoseline back outside.

Then last Saturday we met for a daytime double session back at Keeseville to actually practice squirting water for the first time. This was the hardest class physically, since part of it included advancing a charged hoseline on hands and knees through a zig-zag course of cones in teams of four. At least this time we weren't blindfolded, but it was hot, sweaty, exhausting work, especially when breathing with the air pack. At the end of each run, I was very happy to get that mask off. Ah, fresh air!

I began to see why the most common cause of line-of-duty deaths for firefighters is simple physical stress. A charged hoseline is a heavy, unwieldy beast-even if it might save your life. I'm in half-decent shape, but after 5 times through the cones I was whipped. Actually, I was whipped after 3 times. After 5 times I was really, really whipped. After that we practiced squirting water with various nozzles and appliances. It was a great day-I learned a lot, had fun, and got a major work-out all at the same time.

A big thank-you to Cumberland Head and Cadyville fire departments for supplying engines and personnel for this class, and to Westport's Air One for refilling our bottles.

If you're planning to go down to Crown Point for the big Quad bash there on Saturday, September 19, Westport musician Laurel Rule will direct the Champlain Valley String Orchestra in a performance of her composition "Crown Point Suite" on the main stage at 7 p.m. These are talented musicians from Westport and nearby towns, and it will be well worth hearing this original work by one of our own.

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