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Westport 9/26/09

Leaves are starting to turn, days and especially nights are getting cooler-what we in the North Country call "good sleeping weather"-and the hectic pace of summer life is easing a bit. School's open. Summer people have drifted back to the city, bless 'em. Sunrise and sunset are starting to squeeze together a little, but the days are still good and long. Grass has slowed down. Bugs are thinning out a bit.

Every season has its glories, but I have to say that the pleasures of early fall are right up there at the top of my list. The woods, of course, beckon more seductively in their glorious fall colors, and without the constant need to swat flies and mosquitoes. You can still wear shorts during the day, and the evening comes when the first wood fire of the season sends its delicate, homey scent out on the crisp, dry air.

And, not least for me this particular fall, the cooler weather means it's getting easier to do exercises wearing the turn-out gear and air-pack that I'm getting more and more used to as a firefighter-in-training. This is no small thing, since in October, the third and final month of Firefighter 1, we have two full Saturdays as well as the usual twice-a-week three-hour evening classes.

One of them will be instruction in fire extinguishers, and the other will be a live burn at the Lake Placid Training Center, which has a special facility for simulating a structure fire. This is our final exercise, and it offers an invaluable opportunity to experience the realities of heat, smoke, and flame in a controlled environment.

So far, topics we've covered include firefighter safety and survival, fire behavior, building search, forcible entry, building construction, hose practice and water streams, and ropes and knots. This week it's ground ladders and ventilation, which means understanding how, why, and where to make openings to allow smoke and heat to escape the building. This is tricky, since it can save lives and ease working conditions but it also means letting oxygen get to the fire. Topics we'll be covering soon include salvage and overhaul (what happens after the fire is out), more hose skills, vehicle fires, sprinkler system fundamentals, and hazardous materials operations.

I've been impressed by dedication of both the instructors and my fellow students. Most of the other trainees are young men in their early twenties or so, but there are also two young women, who outperformed us all on air consumption. In addition, there's a veteran who's taking the class as a refresher. His experience has added a valuable dimension.

I've mentioned many times how much we need volunteers, both for the fire department and the ambulance squad. I've also described the wonderful support that I've received from those already serving. Something to consider, if you're thinking about joining.

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