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August 15, 2005

Essentials

Before I could become a firefighter, I had to complete Essentials of Firefighting.
It's a 'basic' firefighting course that every firefighter, whether you're paid or
volunteer, MUST pass. As the name implies, it teaches you the basic techniques of firefighting and the equipment you'll be using. There's also alot of simulation drills so that one can use the equipment, and practice the techniques that were being taught.
I was paired off with a short, skinny kid who weighed all of about 90lbs soaking wet. He was a cocky lil bastard, but he was sorely lacking in skills and common sense.
I helped him out as much as I could,
but I could only do so much. He either needed to shape up and pull his weight, or accept that this was not something in which he would succeed at and move on.
That may sound cruel, but this was not a game. I needed to know, and so did his fellow firefighters, whether or not he could be counted on. It could be a matter of life and death.
No, he needed to figure out what he could and could not handle. The sooner he did this, the better off we all would be. He also made it quite obvious that being paired with a woman, and one who was better than he was, was totally unacceptable. It was not the best situation. I already had to work harder and smarter than the other men, having a partner who disliked you, and flat out refused to communicate or work with you was frustrating. We disagreed on practically everything. But, I was patient. Till I could no longer be.
One saturday morning, we were outside gearing up and getting ready to practice Search & Rescue in the smokehouse. This was the day I had been waiting for! Today was the day they would fill the 'house' with smoke, we would strap on our gear, our facemasks would be taped, and we would have to crawl through the structure 'looking' for people. Along the way, there would be many obstacles for us to climb over, under, around, etc. It would be very easy to get turned around, twisted, confused and lost. That's why you work in teams of 2. One to hold onto the wall, and one to 'feel' the room. The lead person is the searcher, and his backup is the anchor. He's the one that keeps the searcher from becoming disoriented, and keep us moving through the room. On this day, I was the lead, and he was the anchor.
After our masks were taped, we were led to the door of the structure. I got down on hands an knees, as did my partner. He grabbed hold of my right foot as I started crawling into the smokehouse. I made my first turn in, to the left, keeping my left hand and left foot against the wall as a guide. After I made sure my partner was all the way in with me, I moved away from the wall and started crawling out into the room feeling around for people. My partner inched his way out into the room so I could crawl further. He was supposed to keep his left foot braced against the wall, and a firm hold on my left foot. After awhile, I no longer felt his hand on my foot. I stayed calm, and started crawling back towards the wall. It took me a few minutes to get back, and when I did, he was gone. I had no idea what happened to him, he never signaled that he wanted out, he just left me there. In the middle of the room. By myself. Since I was closer to the beginning than I was the end, I crawled backwards out of the structure, keeping my left hand and foot against the wall. When I got out of the smokehouse, I tore my mask off and found him sitting on the ground puking and shaking. He found out the hard way that he's claustrophobic.
I felt sorry for him for all of a minute. I grabbed him by his turnout coat, pulled him to his feet and punched him square in the mouth. Arrogant lil' shit could have gotten me, and anyone else who might have been in there killed!

I understood that he didn't know till he was in there that he was going to freak. What I didn't get, was why the hell didn't he pull on my foot to let me know to come back???? That was what we were supposed to do! You NEVER just leave your partner! I wanted to put a serious hurting on him, but I didn't. One of my instructors pulled me aside and made me roll hose to burn off my anger instead.

I was given a new partner and went through the drill again, this time without incident.
My old partner was dismissed for the day, and never came back.

I was reprimanded for punching him, but I didn't care. I knew I did the right thing, and so did most of the men and women in my class. Alot of them came up to me afterwards and said they would have done the same.

I
never felt bad for punching him, still don't. I would have expected the same reaction if I had done what he did. I only regret that I didn't get to finish what I started.

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