Week Two – Pushing The Reset Button

Day six was the beginning of a new week and the beginning of 0700 PT each day.  We tested to get some base line numbers for the rest of the academy and to see what our improvement is at the end of the academy in about 10 weeks.  We started with a 1.5 mile run through the sloping hills of the college campus.  I was not happy with my time, 17:03.  Last time I ran I was running about a 10.30 mile but that was a year ago and in Florida and on flat land.  I have never been a good runner even when I was younger.  Making much improvement in ten weeks will be tough.  We were also timed for one minute of push-ups and one minute of sit-ups.  I came in with 28 sit-ups and 21 push-ups.  The numbers are a little less than impressive even with 50 plus years of abuse to my body.

We spent the day in the classroom learning and discussing building construction.  One thing that was so very different from my academy in 1980 is the change in building materials and systems.  Before I had left the fire service, full time in 1988 and volunteer in 1999, I had seen some changes in construction but I was not fully aware of what I was about to learn and see.  Even after having designed and building two of my own houses I did not realize the effects of fire on some of these newer building components.  I knew about the newer style light weight composite I beams, wood truss systems and the ever-shrinking nominal sizes of standard building lumber and oriented strand board and laminated structural components with fire sensitive adhesives.

Seeing the numerous videos of testing, some scientific and some not, of these lightweight building systems and seeing the repeated and very quick structural integrity failure made me wonder, how much longer will fire fighters be making interior attacks?  While these building components and system work very well under ordinary use, they are a disaster waiting to happen under many fire conditions, thus leading to floor and roof collapse under fire conditions just minutes after fire units typically arrive on scene.  The entire subject brought me back to November 22, 1979 in Valley Stream, NY.  The VSFD responded to the Temple Gates of Zion fire where the premature collapse of the truss roof system took the life of Captain John J. Tate and Captain Michael J. Moran and injured several other firefighters just minutes into the fire attack.  The type of construction design, materials used and fire load cost the lives to John and Mike and the injury along with both permanent physical and emotional scarring of my friends.

Day seven brought with it more physical fitness training and will do so every day at 0700.  The program coordinator has several different scenarios that we will run through each day, some cardio, some strength building and some circuit training; for the most part all very stressing on this 57 year old body.  I did notice some of the younger guys having to push hard as well.  I told myself that this is a learning experience and a building experience and all of us will come out better for it.

We continued with more building construction education.  One of the highlights of my day was the name on the bottom of a media presentation on manufactured housing presented by our instructor to the class, “Tom Bartsch”.  Tom is an old friend from the Valley Stream Volunteer Fire Department.  Tom rose through the ranks at the VSFD and served as chief.  He was also a New York City firefighter who became the fire inspector for the Village of Valley Stream upon retirement from FDNY.  While I had not spoke with Tom in many years it did bring a smile to my face to see his work.  The “small world” theory is working well here.

Day eight changed the subject to fire behavior and I learned that the three stages of fire had grown up and became four.  From 1) Incipient, 2) Free Burning and 3) Smoldering, had become; 1) Incipient, 2) Growing, 3) Fully Developed and 4) Decay.  I enjoyed observing my classmates and see them change as they learn and experience more of the class.  I knew a lot of this stuff because much of it had not changed much in 35 years.  I also am trying to teach myself to just shut up and let these guys get answers in first.  I think part of me wants to be the one to answer because as a young boy I was very shy and not a good student, OK a horrible student.  I had no self-confidence, poor study habits.  I was not motivated and most of my teachers had no idea or did not care to motivate me.  During my adult years, I took a liking to education.  Fire science, paramedicine, law enforcement all had a practical application and drew me in.  I changed.  I liked learning and have done well for myself, both academically and in my career.  Now that I have come out of that shell I am finding it hard to crawl back in to it.

The physical fitness has been a real challenge.  I do the best I can and while not keeping up with most of the younger guys I know that I am giving it all of my efforts.  This is day three of doing pushups to the point of failure, something I am not use to doing.  Some of the other exercises have also pushed me to the failure point but none to the point of giving up.  I am going to come out the other end of this leaner, stronger and more determined!  All of us will!

Day nine was a continuation of fire behavior.  Nothing very earth shattering took place today but we did get to see a wooden mock up simulator go through the stages of burning and flash over and become a fully developed fire.

Day ten was the first day of ladder training.  Anyone who has been through a fire academy knows that ladder training is very physically demanding.  We started at 0700 with PT which included climbing stairs, squats, burpees and sprints and class room time for the rest of the morning.  After lunch and at 93 degrees we started ladder carries, raises and climbing.  We continued with training by carrying tools up to the third floor window, locking in with a leg lock and going hands free from the ladder.

I was happy to see that I was not the only one who does not like climbing ladders.  But we all did it.  I think I was able to keep on a good game face but I didn’t like even one second of it.  At the end of the day I was wiped out.  My legs were tired, my abs hurt from all the physical fitness training, and I was sunburned but I felt good.  I completed day one of ladders!  It was an exhausting day but a good day none the less.

©Alden L. Doane 2015


Continue this story – Week Three