Let me paint you a picture. It’s Monday. It’s a bleary, cold, drizzly day. I’ve been working non-stop since 7 AM (I even took a rest day from marathon training. This is a big deal). I’m mentally drained. I’m physically exhausted. I haven’t had a full meal all day. Work has been all-consuming. The clock ticks to 6 PM and all I can think about is a glass of wine and my bed and some serious Netflix binging.
But I have Citizens Fire Academy. Dreams. Shattered.
In my job, if I don’t get a Facebook post up or a website edited, no one dies. The world doesn’t stop turning. If Olivia misses a yoga class, as much as she doesn’t like to admit it, no one dies. The world keeps going. Let’s be honest, most of us work at jobs that we can take “easy days.” Those days where you sit in your office chair and do absolutely nothing, simply because you woke up and didn’t feel like working.
But what about firefighters? Police officers? Surgeons? I hope that the morning of my extensive hip repair, my surgeon wasn’t thinking, “Eh, I’ll just take it easy today. I don’t really feel like working. We’ll open up this girl’s hip and just see how I can perform.” These professions are life or death. They require you to be “on” at all times. They require you to be at your highest level of performance no matter if you feel tired or hungover or got in a fight with your spouse. Because that fire is still going to burn and your coworkers are still going to rely on you to be at your best. It’s their lives on the line too.
This realization during Week Three of Citizens Fire Academy confirmed that I would never want to be a firefighter.
Alas, Olivia and I trudged with empty stomaches and glassy eyes to the fire department for three hours of hose drills and fire behavior. We started by lighting a grease fire and watching how quickly a small fire turns into something completely out of control. We watched what happens when you put water on a grease fire (duh, it gets bigger). I did learn a new fire fact! If you put flour on a grease fire, the flour will burn and add fuel to the fire.
We then watched a simulated fire in a burn cell. This is basically a steel pod with a bed and Christmas tree inside. The bed was then lit on fire and we watched as the most beautiful fire spread and engulfed the pod. Yes, I said beautiful. The way the fire moves and how the color of the smoke changes is like art. It’s beautiful to see the steam rise and the licks of fire and black billows of smoke. Once you understand how something works, the danger is removed. There is a science to fire. It has a predicted pattern and behavior. Once the cord was pulled on the mystery, my fear subsided.
Then, things went downhill. Fast.
It was onto hose drills with our companies. Olivia and I were part of a company that includes two police officers. Clearly I’m the runt of the group. Does everyone remember that scene from Little Rascals where the boy is literally flying on the fire hose in the air because he can’t control it? This is not a joke.
Lesson of the night: water is heavy! But on an empty stomach and a delirious sense of the world, it seemed 50 times heavier.
I wasn’t in it to win in this week. I wanted to eat Taco John’s. I wanted to put on slippers. I wanted to be in bed. But I had these three other people counting on me to have their backs. I needed to help support the hose. I needed to help my partner crawl on our knees and move forwards and backwards with the hose so it didn’t kink. I needed to be ON. Fortunately, I’m just a citizen. And there were no real fires to put out. So I could laugh during the drills. Make jokes with my partner and company. And be a bit of a goof when it came time to do the drills on my own.
Again, if I was a real firefighter, this is my job. I have a team counting on me. I have a city relying on me. I just can’t decide to goof off while at a house fire. This job requires you to be present, awake, and ready for anything at the drop of a hat.
Though I was a bit off kilter during the hose practice, I did pick up a few helpful tidbits.
- The bigger the fire, the bigger the hose (and the harder it is to control said hose)
- That hose will own you if you slip up for a split second. With hundreds of pounds of water gushing through it, it’s not something to mess with
- It’s illegal to drive over a fire hose
- Sitting on the hose is sometimes the easiest way to control it
- It’s exhausting and extremely physically demanding to work a hose. This isn’t like a garden hose
- My upper body strength is in need of some serious work
Just like week one and two, I left feeling an immense amount of respect for everything the firefighters do. But I had an even deeper level of respect for how they do it. It’s a life or death job. Their hunger, emotions and personal drama can’t get in the way. That is something I challenge everyone to try for just one day. Spoiler alert: it’s not easy.