NORTH LIBERTY– It’s Monday evening at the North Liberty fire station. Probationary firefighter Rich Reasner is emptying the dishwasher and scrubbing items in the kitchen sink. To his right, probationary firefighter Jenn Vanderhoff is checking on a pizza and breadsticks she’s baking for her fellow new recruits and their instructor for the evening, firefighter/EMT Reese Bryson. Four more of their fellow “probies” filter in, and after a bit of friendly banter, they settle in for the evening’s work.
The recruit class, originally ten strong, started with an orientation session in December. Since then, Monday nights have been school nights as the new recruits work their way through a 1,200-page textbook designed to lay the foundation for their craft, and prepare them for Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 certification examinations under the tutelage of the department’s training captain Adam Kramer and training lieutenant Austin Hershberger, as well as other members of the department.
Tonight’s lessons cover building construction and ropes and knots. Bryson zips through the PowerPoint presentation as the students are expected to have already thoroughly read the chapters in the book.
Building construction teaches the fledgling firefighters about different types of structures and how they’re put together. They also learn how fire affects different construction types, which directly influences how they’ll eventually fight structure fires. Contemporary lightweight construction, they learned, doesn’t stand up well under fire conditions, and can collapse relatively quickly. They also learned about truss roofs, and a particularly deadly type known as a bowstring truss; the failure of one in Hackensack, N.J. in 1988 is etched into the collective memory of the fire service. Five firefighters were killed when such a roof collapsed a little over 30 minutes after their arrival to battle a blaze in an automotive repair shop. Ten years earlier, six New York City firefighters died when a supermarket’s bowstring truss roof collapsed.
No less important, but with a more light-hearted mood, the probies tried to wrap their minds around some common knots, and wrapped short lengths of rope around their hands as they attempted to execute them. The clove hitch, half hitch and a bowline were practiced over and over in the classroom to build proficiency. The knots are utilized by firefighters as they are simple and fast to tie and untie if equipment and tools need to be hoisted to firefighters, or if a victim needs to be raised or lowered.
Classroom practice led to practical applications in the apparatus bays where Bryson demonstrated how to secure a pike pole (used in pulling down ceilings) and a chainsaw for hoisting. From there it was up to the recruits to practice, practice it again, and again to build up confidence and expertise.
NLFD Assistant Fire Chief Bill Schmooke said the new class of recruits is progressing nicely.
“They have begun to form bonds within their class as well with other members of the fire department,” said Schmooke. “You can tell that many of them really want to be a firefighter. They are hungry for knowledge and training; and these are exactly the type of recruits the NLFD wants.”
Schmooke said the new recruits were recently cleared to respond to department calls, and the learning curve steepens a bit from here forward.
“They have all taken to the new challenge as professionals. For this I’m proud, NLFD proud,” said Schmooke.
This is the second installment in a series on a year in the life of an NLFD recruit.