I began the day today at 4:00 AM (typical for me). I studied for the upcoming weekly firefighter test (held each Friday morning), read and responded to email, and went into the Fire Chief’s office for an hour before class to talk with my senior officers and take care of the “inbox.” Things at the office are in great hands – I have some exceptionally talented people on my staff!
Today’s classroom work centered on the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) – the “air pack” used by firefighters. It enables us to work in hot, hazardous, and oxygen-deficient environments. It is the firefighter’s lifeline! After an extensive lecture about the components of the SCBA, the proper inspection and use of it, and the firefighting hazards an SCBA protects us against, we practiced donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) the gear.
The SCBA weighs about 22 pounds. Saint Paul Fire uses SCBAs made by MSA. The bottles hold compressed air at 4500 psi, and can provide breathable air for anywhere between 10 and 60 minutes depending on the physical/mental condition of the user and the amount of work a firefighter is doing.
The afternoon was filled with a variety of “hands on” SCBA-related activities. The “mask maze” was my personal favorite. Dressed in full PPE (bunker coat and pants, boots, helmet, hood, gloves, and SCBA), we donned our air masks – suitably “blacked out” so we could not see out of them – and crawled through a maze of doorways, furnishings, culverts, and other obstacles while following a hose line along the floor. Using only our hearing and sense of touch, we eventually found our way through the maze and out the exit door. The exercise was designed to get us comfortable using the SCBA and working in blacked out conditions. The exercise also taught us some valuable techniques for maneuvering in tight spaces – like how to fit between the studs of an interior wall (16” on center) with full PPE and an SCBA on – without taking anything off! Much to my surprise, I found it relatively easy to do! Stick your air pack into the opening (back to the wall), then “swim” your arms through behind you one at a time….
We also got an excellent “tour” of Ladder 8 and the air trailer. The air trailer is brought to the scene of large incidents or those that extend for a long period of time. It is used to refill the air tanks of the SCBAs. We learned how to refill the tanks from the EXCEPTIONAL crew of Ladder 8 “B-shift.”
We finished the day – as always – with PT hour. More running today, and less upper body work, but tiring for this old body. I took a short nap when I got home, and continued my “workout” later in the evening, when my wife and I took a 9.4 mile walk around Lake Phalen (3 circuits of the lake). I studied for Friday’s firefighter test until 11:30 PM, and fell asleep instantly. (I chuckle as I write this, because as a kid, it took me a long, LONG time to fall asleep. Now, I think I can do it in less than a minute!)