Search and rescue, putting out fires, and helping save a life are all things people usually leave to the Fire Department. But in the Naperville Citizens Fire Academy it’s exactly what everyday residents do. For the past three weeks residents, including myself, have been learning the basics of being a firefighter.
And we didn’t waste any time. About an hour into the first day of a nine-week class we were all sitting in a smoke filled room with an actual fire.
“The purpose is for civilians of the community, the residents of the community, to see what we do,” said Division Chief Mark Ziemnik. “It’s a great opportunity for people to find out what they see on TV isn’t reality. This is reality. You can’t smell it on TV you can’t hear the fire burning, you can’t hear the people screaming when it’s on TV. The reality of it is totally different when it’s hands on.”
Everyone in the class joined for different reasons, some to learn how to better protect their families, some because it sounded fun and others to see if becoming a firefighter was really what they wanted to do.
“I did sales most of my life and I’m just bored stiff with it,” said Naperville resident Adam Kirchhoff. “I actually know a couple guys in the Fire Department and they love their jobs. I think saving lives would be such a great experience and a great career.”
Everything was a lot harder and heavier than the professional firefighters made it look, from the pants, coats and helmets we wore, to the ladders and hoses.
“I don’t expect them to be in there and do everything perfectly,” said Ziemnik.
“That’s not what it’s all about. It is about being comfortable, if you have a question about something ask it. If there’s something you don’t want to do, tell us. We always want you to try, but we’re not here for you to fail, we’re here for you to have a good experience.”
I’m claustrophobic, so the most difficult thing for me so far was to put on the air packs and go through a smoking building and putting on a mask that was blacked out and search for victims to get a feel for how it is in a real fire.
Only three weeks into the academy and all of us participating already have a newfound admiration for firefighters.
“I’ve always had tremendous respect for them, but now even more so,” said Naperville resident Lauren Keller. “It’s amazing what they do.”
Over the next six weeks we’ll learn acquired structure training, EMS skills, don a haz mat suit, and auto extrication all training for a live burn drill at the end of the class.
Tune in to Naperville News 17 in three weeks for an update of how we’re doing in the Citizen’s Fire Academy.
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