Column: Firefighters are My Heroes
By Jacob Mathias
Improvisation was the word of the day at the Stevens Point Fire Department.
I arrived at the Stevens Point Fire Department’s Station #1 for my second class of the Portage County Emergency Services Citizens’ Academy like a kid on Christmas morning. I was going to get to play with a fire hose and boy was I excited. I think it’s every little boy’s dream to spray a fire hose and I was no exception.
Things didn’t immediately go according to plan. As you may surmise, people don’t schedule their emergencies around anyone else’s schedule. The station was pretty empty when our class was scheduled to start as three ambulances and a fire engine were out on calls. What began as a class that was to be divided into four sections for various activities soon became three as the firefighters and paramedics who volunteered to teach our class were away on calls.
Another ambulance was soon called away and our group became one again as we took a tour of the fire station (psst, they have a lot of recliners) and waited for the others to return.
Once things were underway, I think it’s safe to say our class had a blast.
Thankfully, the fire hose was my first activity. Now, I’m a big guy; 6’1″ and a clear 300 pounds. I was feeling a little cocky as I opened up the hose that motor pump operator Victor Kedrowski had just turned up to 130 psi — their normal operating water pressure.
The hose knocked me backward.
The immense amount of power that comes out of that fire hose (one of their smaller hoses, by the way) is astounding. I could barely hang on for 10 seconds; these men and women of the SPFD have to hold it for extended periods of time. I felt like a cartoon character who was about to be thrown around by the hose.
After the fire hose, I participated in a search and rescue drill. I was suited up in boots, a turnout (heavy, fire retardant pants) and jacket, a face mask, oxygen tank and fire helmet. I thought I was going to cook. Every inch of me began to perspire in this outfit that can withstand a temperature of nearly 1,000 degrees.
I was placed in a dark room where I had to crawl on my hands and knees through an obstacle course — while wearing all the equipment. This outfit does not a graceful man make. I made it through, but it wasn’t a pretty site. It’s hot, disorienting and claustrophobic just wearing the equipment. Having to wear it for long periods while fighting a fire is an experience I can’t fathom.
My final activity at the SPFD was straight up, literally.
We loaded into the fire engine’s ladder basket in pairs and were lifted into the air above the station. I don’t do well with heights and my legs turned to jelly about halfway up, but when we stopped at about 80 feet above the ground, the view was worth it. The university glowed in soft light and a darkened city was comforting and peaceful. But in all honesty, I was glad when I got back to the ground.
Just a brief glimpse into the goings-on of the SPFD was truly eye-opening. The amount of physical and mental stress our firefighters go through is something I know I’d never be able to do and I’m grateful I won’t have to; however, I’m even more grateful that others are called to a life of service and helping others when their lives are in danger.
Our firefighters live for what they do and after getting to meet some of them, I’ll rest easy knowing they’re the ones to show up when someone in my community has an emergency.
Stay tuned next week as I continue my education at the Citizens’ Academy.