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On the job: Gearing up for burn training

Melissa Topey • Apr 27, 2012 at 4:11 PM


Check out Part II in this Sunday's Sandusky Register

The sound of hissing is not good.

I know this, because I recently experienced a break in the seal of a face mask as Register chief photographer Jason Werling and I were being outfitted and trained in firefighting equipment.

It was our chance to spend a morning as Sandusky firefighters.

After almost two hours of training, I was prepared to fight a fire, with Jason alongside me to document the battle.

Just another On The Job.

On an upcoming burn day, I will learn how fire moves, and the techniques firefighters use to extinguish the flames.

Sandusky firefighters are required to conduct three hours of burn training each month. They said they'd like to hold them more often, but the budget won't allow it.

The changing face of firefighting requires first responders to increasingly deal with medical calls, which makes burn exercises crucial to keep firefighters performing well.

Training burns can be dangerous -- in 2010, a dozen firefighters died in training activities in the U.S.

Firefighters rely on their equipment to keep them safe.

During this On The Job, I quickly realized firefighters know every aspect of every piece of equipment. They check each piece, again and again.

Werling and I learned how to check our seals and our regulators.

We checked the gauge that indicated our air levels, and we learned the safety tones for a firefighter.

One of these was a squelching tone, for a firefighter who is not moving or who has fallen; it lets other firefighters find him.

A crucial tone is the piercing loud tone, which is when a tank is running low on air. A tank has about 30 to 45 minutes of air, then it's time to get out.

The hissing sound of a broken seal is annoying, but the bigger problem is smoke and toxins that can enter the mask if you're inside a fire.

With some minor adjustments to my hair, I fixed the seal.

I took a deep breath to create the positive pressure needed to activate the air flow. The sounds of the regulators created Darth Vader breathing sounds.

Werling seized on the moment.

You know the line: "Luke, I am your father," he said, grinning.

Before learning how to use the tanks and breathing masks, we had to be fitted.

Sandusky fire Capt. Dave Degnan sized us up and grabbed a medium-sized mask for me and a large one for Jason.

He also grabbed the smallest turnout gear the department had. The jacket and pants were still a little big for me, but we made it work. I know I'll have to wear several pairs of thick socks to make the boots fit on the day we actually fight the fire.

Werling's gear fit perfectly. He looked like a firefighter.

I looked like I was playing dress-up after raiding a firefighter's closet.

Once we had our masks on, fire Lt. Pete Zimmermann attached a hose to a nearby machine. We breathed in, to make sure out masks were air-tight.

We read a few paragraphs about a rainbow, designed to move most of our facial muscles.

More breathing, while moving side to side.

Breathing, as we touched our toes.

Well, Jason touched his toes. I touched my knees.

Finally, we passed the breathing test.

We then learned how to get into our gear as quickly as possible.

Firefighters have fewer than two minutes to suit up before heading to an emergency. I wasn't as fast, but I got it done.

Dressed in a thick, protective coat, I had to sweep the floor with my arms crossed, then grab my pack off the floor.

In one movement, I had to hoist the air tank high up onto my back.

This much is clear: A firefighter needs strength and graceful, coordinated movement to do the job.

I was able to do the exercise before donning the coat, but not afterward.

Then came the jokes from Degnan, Zimmermann and Werling.

"The building's burning!"

"Wait a moment, I am coming, let me just get the pack on."

"We're done."

"Oh, Darn."

Hopefully, I won't hear that last one when I walk into the real burning building.

With my preparation out of the way, I have some confidence in the equipment, and I have confidence in the firefighters who will be next to me on burn day.

Check out next Sunday's showcase to see Melissa and Jason experience what it's like to fight a fire.

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