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  • Writer's pictureTony

On Being a Marshmallow Stuffed Into a Fire, or Tony's Firefighter Training Near-Religious Nightmare

Firefighters are a unique breed of humanity who do things that even the semi-insane individuals of EMS consider far beyond any rational thought or behavior. I had a single ‘training’ experience that cured me of ever considering a firefighter’s career path.

The Georgia Public Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia has a huge firefighter training program which encompasses the spectrum of fire science. I was acting as a visiting instructor assisting with a Basic Life Support (CPR) class for a firefighter training program when offered a chance to join a training group on the fire grounds. The program’s principal instructor, for some unknown reason, thought that my having a firefighter’s firsthand experience might sway me into joining a fire department. I thought, “What the hell.” and agreed to the experience.

I was transported out to the fire ground training area where I was fitted with the proper gear for the training in a situation called ‘a flashover’.

First off, let me say that all this outer wear consisting of a coat, pants, boots, and helmet on a sunny day in the month of June in middle Georgia sucks. Then, they hand me an SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) to wear; imagine wearing SCUBA gear in the middle of acres of heated concrete. I am standing around pouring sweat by the bucket-full while the instructor spoke with the fire ground instructor. Little did I know that I should have left then and there to go back to Grady.

Firefighter trainees do not walk, saunter, or meander around the fire ground in training. Oh no, they run… all the time everywhere while wearing 50 pounds of shit. This is not fun, not fun at all. I am now sweating my ass off and out of breath when we reach the training site.

Maybe it’s just me. However, I don’t listen very well to a lecture while wiping sweat out of my eyes and questioning myself about my life’s choices. That being said, I was called up to the front and handed the nozzle of a hose by the instructor. He proceeded to line a group of other trainees behind me on the hose.

Once done, he said to me, “Put on your mask and DO NOT TAKE IT OFF! On my command, you will approach the door with the fire hose aimed directly in front of you. Squat as close to the ground as you can get and hold the hose straight ahead and steady. DO NOT MOVE UNTIL I TELL YOU TOO!”

He checked my gear and signaled for the hose to be turned on. Holy shit! This isn’t a garden hose, the damned thing acts like it’s alive. It was like trying to hold the head of a pissed-off anaconda. The instructor barked out the order to move forward. 50 pounds of gear and a dragging a heavy-assed hose… Nope, not in my career path.

My team approached the point where we are supposed to stand in front of a door and told to stop. We squatted down and waited. I may not be the smartest person on God’s green Earth but I could hear something ROARING behind that door. Campfires make a ‘snappy crackly’ sound. This sound sounded like nothing I have ever heard before in my life. It was a sphincter-clinching moment unlike any other. Oh yeah, I am aiming that spray of water at the door and having a religious experience all in the same instant.

Then, they opened the door.

Imagine yourself being a marshmallow stuffed into a fire. I have a vivid imagination; this was the worst waking nightmare of my life. People describe a controlled fire as looking alive. Trust me when I say that an ‘uncontrolled’ fire is alive, pissed off in the extreme, and looking to murder someone. It raged in a boiling mass out of that room to wrap itself around us on three of the four sides; only that piddly-ass spray of water was keeping us alive. I am looking nose to nose with an inferno of flame doing its best to kill me.

The flashover experience was later explained as lasting mere seconds; it felt like hours. The fire was finally put down and we were allowed to leave. The BCLS instructor walked with me and asked, “How did you like it?”

I dropped my equipment in a pile onto the floor and said, “No… Just no.”

I rode back to the main training center in silence while considering the experience that I’d just had. Firefighters have my respect because they do a job that I simply can’t imagine ever performing as a career. The job is not ‘just spray water’. No, a firefighter is an individual who walks into a situation that defies belief or understanding. Firefighters are constantly surrounded by lethal conditions requiring constant vigilance of situations that can shift in a heartbeat. It is a team effort conducted within extraordinary circumstance with minimal back-up. The entire profession is due more respect than they could ever hope to receive from the public.

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