"Do not ever let go of this!"
Sgt. Paulson's voice boomed through the burn building, echoing menacingly off the concrete walls. He dragged about ten feet of hose towards him, and held the nozzle in the face of the recruit standing before him.
"Treat this like a baby! If you were a cop, you wouldn't tell someone 'Hey, hold my gun for a second, would you?' Do not ever drop your nozzle! It's yours."
The recruit's facemask bobbed up and down twice, signaling that the message had sunk in. We had all been dragging hoselines up and down stairs, through rooms, and then re-racking all of it for several hours. Techniques are being learned, speed is being improved, and it looks like a bunch of us might actually become D.C. firefighters. However, we still have a long way to go.
The past few days have been extremely fun, albeit exhausting. We're all covered in hose grime (as I write this, I'm noticing that I still can't seem to scrub off some of the dirt and sludge on my hands), but the scenarios are interesting in that they're taxing us both mentally and physically.
I felt someone's hand brush against my feet. Whoever it was kept going, and for a second, I thought they'd passed me. The sound of my PASS device (designed to alert those around me that I had been motionless for more than thirty seconds) was shrieking through the pitch black and reverberating off the walls, making it confusing for the rescuers to tell where it was initially coming from. Quickly, a disbelieving hand slapped back against my boot and grabbed hold of the thick cloth that comprised my bunker gear.
"I got something here!"
Two more hands arrived, announced by a mechanical breathing sound and the thump of boots near my head. Without delay, I felt the straps of my SCBA harness and my running pants pull tight as two people lifted me clear off the ground.
I hung limp, mutely aware of the light blinking in front of my face that indicated I had less than half a tank of air left. After being dragged through several feet of darkness, I began to see shafts of light cutting through the dirty air. A large cellar door was open several feet above the basement level, and I felt the hands around me shift positions to lift me up the steps.
As my SCBA cylinder caught on each stair, I took several jarring shots to the spine before I landed safely on the asphalt outside. The sun shone through my mask, only to be blocked moments later by the face of another recruit.
"Annie, Annie, are you okay?!"
I couldn't help but burst out laughing at the age-old saying from CPR classes, intended as a way to check the level of consciousness of a plastic mannequin named Rescue Annie.
I sat up and looked over at Gibson, who was huffing from the effort of hauling me out but grinning just the same.
"You motherfuckers. That shit hurt! Take me up the elevator next time, dammit."
Split into teams, our recruit class has been running scenarios inside and around the burn building. Yesterday, some of us (myself included, obviously) acted as "victims" for rescue teams; today, we even filled the structure with a bit of fake smoke to simulate real-life visibility conditions while you run hoselines into it.
We're forced to think on our feet. Much more so than the classroom, we're beginning to see everyone's true work ethic out in the drill yard. Some get it; some don't. 'Nuff said.
As backbreaking as it can be, it's exciting and fun. You've got your ups and downs, to be sure (my team once missed a rescue dummy in a fire coat lying in a dark stairwell we ran up… oops), but this is definitely the way to learn this stuff. You can sit in a classroom all day and listen to the step-by-step of how to connect to a hydrant or pull a hoseline, but only by doing it over and over will you learn the ins and outs of each movement. Everybody has something that works for them, and we're in the early stages of development.
The most useful part may be the debriefing after each scenario; then, we can take something away from it that we might need to remember next time. Each person has screwed up a few times in the drills—some of them are kind of hilarious.
"Spaghetti," or hopelessly tangled hoseline that becomes worse when charged with water.
Either way, I find it hard not to think about the scenarios again and again, even on my drive home. What went well? What could I have done better? What did I do that was fucking awful? (Yes, in one scenario, the hose on my shoulder became so entangled with stuff that I lost the nozzle somewhere behind me. Apparently, watching Sgt. Paulson yell at the other recruit didn'
;t quite drive the point home yet. Never let it go!)
Someone said yesterday that it's like we get to put on our costumes and play fireman this week. This kind of stuff certainly makes it feel like our goal is getting closer; but rather like little kids, we still don't fully know what we're doing.
All we know is that it's fun as hell to learn it.