Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Saturday, December 5, 2009



It has been a long, busy, and anxiety-filled week! I am glad that it’s over.

This week we prepared for several challenging tests. Our classroom time last week was shortened by the 2-day Thanksgiving holiday break, so we carried over last week’s tests to this week, and it dramatically increased the workload on my classmates and me.

The morning session yesterday (Friday, Day 17 of the academy) was 5 hours of non-stop testing. The first of our 5 exams (FIVE!) was a 75 question written test covering 5 chapters in the book and 14 department SOPs. The chapters included detailed discussions about: building construction, water supplies, hoses and appliances (nozzles, adapters, and other equipment used in conjunction with hose lines), ventilation, and ladders. The reading assignments necessary for preparing for this test were extensive. These 5 chapters from our textbook averaged 40 pages in length.

I don’t know how my classmates fared, but I had a tough time just finding time to read through all the material. The “academic” side of this academy is intense, and one is well advised to devote several hours of class preparation time every day to be really successful. I got up at 3:00 AM to complete my reading assignments and finish my preparations for the test. It worked out just fine – I did very well on the written test.

The second exam of the morning was a timed, practical test: donning all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and our air packs in less than 90 seconds. This test (like many of the practical exams we’re preparing to take) has certain critical steps that – if missed – result in an “automatic fail.” This one also had a time factor: all steps must be complete in less than 90 seconds. This exam is all about proficiency under pressure and “muscle memory.” Practice involves doing the steps over and over again to build speed, proficiency, and finding the best way to shave off all unnecessary time. Captain Jerry Deno, one of our outstanding Training Officers, had the best advice: focus on taking one deliberate action at a time and doing it right, then move to the next deliberate action, and so on (focus on getting the buckle snapped, then the Velcro flap closed, then the air bottle turned on, etc.). It’s way too easy to worry about the 90 second time limit, start rushing, get flustered, and then miss a critical step. If just one SCBA strap gets twisted the wrong way, or one piece of Velcro isn’t closed up, you can easily fail this exam.

My son, Jack, and I practiced in our driveway the other night, and I felt confident that I could don all my gear correctly in semi-darkness, meet all the pass/fail criteria, and do it in about 75 seconds. My personal best in all my practice sessions so far was 68 seconds. I watched one of my classmates do it the other day in 61 seconds, so right around a minute was a truly excellent time. My final score for the exam yesterday: I passed well under the required 90 second limit. Then, it was on to the test I was most dreading…..the First Quarter Practical Exam (see my blog entry for Day 13).

The First Quarter Practical had me worried. Again, there were critical steps that could not be missed, or an automatic failure would be the result. There were 18 other “points” possible on the exam, and passing required at least a 14. There was also that 7 minute time limit. On Day 13 I completed a practice session in 6:49. On Day 15, I practiced the exam again and got a 6:51. I definitely was worried about the 7 minute limit. That blasted Keiser sled was by big worry, but there were other “little” things that tripped me up for precious seconds at a time. As my classmates and I donned our gear and got ready for the exam, my anxiety must have been apparent: one of my classmates said, “You look worried!” I was….I hate to fail, and I knew I didn’t have a wide margin of extra time to correct any minor mistakes.

It was 17 degrees outside where the test was conducted. Light snow was blowing in from the south. It was a grey day….a day that seemed to echo the impending doom awaiting me…I wiped my dripping nose for about the fourth time with the back of my glove, and focused on Captain Deno’s advice: “focus on taking deliberate steps well and quickly, then move on to the next deliberate step….” I reviewed the 7 activities in my mind and thought through the criteria for each one….I prayed that I would do my best…..whatever that might be. And then – all too quickly – it was my turn to go!

I reached up and grapped the steamer adapter and 4 inch supply hose off the back of the fire engine and started by back lay of 100 feet of hose to the hydrant (so far so good!)….connect to the hydrant (no cross-threading this time – excellent!)…turn on the hydrant (man, was that thing stiff today…..10 turns until the hydrant was fully open…I turned on my air bottle as I quickly walked to the ladder raise station….raise the ladder (good so far)….donn mask and pick up the hose bundle….climb to the fifth floor (legs feel much better today….remembering to breath without hyperventilating)….back down to the 3rd floor and make the standpipe connection (again no fumbling with threads this time – the practice has paid off)…pick up the hose bundle again (on my left shoulder this time, so I’ll have my right hand free for the handrail)…down to the ground floor and out the building (bundle dropped with a satisfying WHACK on the cold, hard concrete ground)….over to the ax raise and quickly tie a figure eight on a bight, safety knot, and half hitch and hoist it up for instructor approval….than on to the last and most dreadful station: the Keiser. I pound….I breath…I tire…The cold weather must have helped, because the sled moves easier today – much easier, (and I know it wasn't me making all the difference). The instructor yells, “STOP” and shows me the stopwatch: 5:31!! I am elated!

After that mega worry is over, the other exams feel easy. The practical exam on ropes, knots, and tool hoisting went off without a hitch (get it…without a “hitch”?). The hose appliance recognition test also posed no problem for me. I looked at my watch when I had completed all 5 exams, and it was past noon, and time for lunch.

Lunch was a feast of pizza and pie! The pizza came from the restaurant owned by one of my classmates, and it was DELICIOUS! The pies were my treat to my classmates and the instructors as a payback for getting my picture in the paper (old firehouse tradition: you get in the paper, you buy the treats). As ate, we relaxed and watched some videos from Mr. Vrona’s extensive collection, and then listened to a lecture on Salvage and Overhaul. Physical Training was canceled today in order to give us time to get some hands on practice with salvage cover throws, and making water chutes and collection basins using salvage tarps.

The afternoon was relaxed and felt almost festive. My classmates were issued their first pay checks. We also were issued a “Res-Q-Rench” – a multi-tool for firefighters that can serve as a door wedge, a spanner wrench, a gas-valve shut off wrench, a seat belt cutter, and a spike for breaking tempered glass. We were the first class to be issued these tools, and we cannot wait to use them in the field.

We were warned, however, before we were dismissed from class that we should not relax too much. Although I personally felt I had gotten over a big hump today, Training Chief Morehead told us that we’d have another 10 weeks of “humps” to get over – that the tension and pressure would continue unabated. Glancing ahead in the syllabus I saw that next week’s written test will cover SEVEN chapters from the book (plus department SOPs). And the other day we were already introduced to our next challenging timed practical test: the “Flat Chop.” I’ll be discussing that activity in a future blog entry….

I left the drill site yesterday cold, tired, and happy. I checked out with my turn out gear, SCBA, and a fire ax (we’re allowed to take home equipment, provided we sign it out and bring it back for the next class). I knew the Keiser was good to me today, but would not always be that way. I also knew that the Flat Chop was an exercise in strength, arm endurance, timing, and accuracy. The ax and my gear will be the heart of my weekend workouts.

For my brothers and sisters in the service, you might find the Res-Q-Rench a useful tool. Check out

I’d love to hear your feedback on how it performs “in the field.”

Thanks for coming “On Scene” with me, and take care until next time!



  1. Chief,
    I have the Res-Q-Rench that you were assigned. It is much like any multi-tool you would find available on the market.. Jack of all, master of none. It works very well for the tasks it is designed for, although it will never replace a true spanner wrench. It works great as a door stop, just don't forget it as it isn't as easy to replace as a piece of wood.. :) It has been fun to read your blog as you go through academy, and as the sun rises today with a temp of -3 on our FireHouse thermometer, I hope you enjoy the day!!

    ~Your brother on your northern border..

  2. Neil,

    Thanks for the feedback on the Res-Q-Rench. I have not used mine yet, but will keep your comments in mind when I do! Thanks for reading along on the blog, and I hope you are enjoying a very Merry Christmastime and a joyous Holiday Season! Take care, Brother, and stay safe (and warm)!