By: Art Myers
My biggest challenge as a firefighter wasn't tackling the tower of terror, or facing the flames. It was the Fire Department's maze!
Lieutenant Michael O'Grady gave me a quick overview as I suited up, "you'll come up and you'll crawl back around and we'll bring you out here and see how you feel."
Firefighters have to put on 30 pounds of gear, including an air tank, and crawl their way through a series of claustrophobic wooden tunnels.
"You're liable to get stuck in here," warned O'Grady, "but we'll get you out!"
Immediately you're down on your belly, then you stand and try with all your might to jump up a narrow angled ramp. I could hear the trainers shouting encouragement as I strained forward: "crawl up on it Art. There you go!"
Halfway through there's a section that gets very narrow. "You got two options, " said O'Grady. "You're probably gonna have to get on your side."
Another section is made tougher by electric wires you have to navigate past. At last, light at the end of the tunnel!
I let out a whoop as I jumped to the ground, completely winded.
Taking off the oxygen mask I remarked, " Man alive! The amazing thing is that these guys do this stuff to make sure other people live, let alone put their own lives at risk. I'm glad I had an oxygen tank!"
Those oxygen tanks will set off an alarm if a firefighter falls and stays down too long. Those alarms were some of the haunting sounds heard after the twin towers collapsed on 9-11.
"What you were hearing was all of that twerping noise. It was all those air packs with all those guys staying still;" Lt. Mike Bellamy says 9-11 made the danger of his job very real to his wife early in their relationship.
"It's definitely a commitment for the families and for the children and husbands and wives...to really stand behind them," says Bellamy. "We're willing to lay it out there and make the ultimate sacrifice, and sometimes firefighters don't come home."
Auto accidents also bring out the fire trucks. I set to work stabilizing a "wrecked" vehicle by hammering in wooden wedges underneath it.
"Bang this one here?"
Next, we use something called a spring window punch to take out the glass and get to the patient. Used right, it instantly and safely shatters side and back windows.
Sometimes, to get to the patient, you have to pull out the big guns, the Jaws of Life. Then massive cutters slice right through the hinge.
It was time to cool off, and get some of that food firefighters are so famous for. After a prayer of thanks, we dug in to some marvelous barbecued chicken. "Tender, Juicy, smokey, and delicious!"
We barely got through the meal before we were called out, dropping everything to respond to a person having an allergic reaction.
Our blood was pumping, but the unit was called off before we could arrive. Firefighters have a rough schedule, 24 hours straight on, and then 48 off.
But the schedule and the danger and the shared sacrifice seem to forge the unit into a real family. "That's kind of why I signed up", says firefighter Jeremy Rogers, "to help people and for the fellowship.. the brotherhood. Art, I'd do it for free."
If you'd like to give this experience a shot, sign up for the Citizen's Fire Academy at talgov.com, but you have to be 18 or older.