Learning the Ropes

Three weeks ago we introduced you to the Citizen Fire Academy, a nine-week course dedicated to learning what firefighters go through on a daily basis.

During the first three weeks we learned hands on about smoke behavior, air pack training, search and rescue, and hose and ladders. The last three weeks have been just as action packed.

If you drove by a house on Benton Avenue a few weeks ago and saw fire trucks and smoke, there was no need to be alarmed. This was just our acquired structure training. Our instructors set theatrical smoke through a ranch-style house while we had to pull hoses and go search for a “victim.” As usual, my claustrophobia had me worried, but I fought through it and completed the task.

I wasn’t the only one a little nervous that night. We got to climb the ladder truck to learn how to ventilate a roof. But for some, the height was more terrifying than the flames.

“I did it! I went up on the truck ladder today,” said Kate Houlihan, Citizen Fire Academy participant. “I guess we were only 18 feet off the ground, but it was really neat. I even looked down at the ground as I climbed it, which you weren’t supposed to do but I did anyway. I think I definitely conquered my fear.“

After an intense week, the following was a little less physical, but just as important to learn: the Emergency Medical Science part of being a firefighter. Naperville actually has more medical based calls then fires.

“If it’s a medical call the ambulance is going to go first,” said Firefighter/Paramedic Mark Posing. “We also carry all of the medical equipment that we need right on the engine and the trucks. All of them have the same things as an ambulance. So if an ambulance is out we can send an engine. They can start treatment before the ambulance gets there.”

During class we learned about the items they keep on an ambulance and what they are used for. We also got a change to get some hands on training with SIMMAN, a dummy that allows EMTs to practice. We also learned how to insert a breathing tube.

“To get on the Naperville Fire Department, and just about any fire department in the state, you have be a paramedic first,” said Posing. “So that’s the training we go through initially and then we get on the department and get the fire side.”

During our sixth week of the class we suited up and learned the HAZMAT side of the job. If Naperville ever has a toxic emergency, firefighters suit up in the plastic suits. Inside, you wear five pairs of gloves, boots, a helmet and your air packs. Once we were inside, we tested our mobility with a number of drills like trying to pick up tools, carry out a “victim” and even try to throw a football.

To end class that night we went back to the classroom for a lesson on fire investigations. We learned how to figure out where and why a fire was started and whether it was an accident or arson.

We’ve been in class now for six weeks, and thanks to good teachers, the pieces are starting to fall together.

“What is most impressive is everyone has a feel for what they do,” said Pam LaFeber, Citizen Fire Academy participant. “The professionalism of the guys that have instructed the class has just blown me away. They have taken their time, they have explained everything, and it’s just been wonderful.

We still have a few weeks left in the Citizen Fire Academy. Still up, auto extrication and a live burn drill at our graduation.

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