By Amy Woolvett
As I looked at the printed out schedule for the year of what our training will be as volunteer firefighters, I felt a flurry of excitement.
There were some great training experiences on the list including one special practice scheduled for the coming Sunday.
We were to meet at Sobey’s after hours. There we were to perform a search and rescue in a ‘smoke’ filled stock room.
I have only worn my breathing apparatus (BA) in training once before and it was a surreal experience.
The trainers had set up the back room of Sobey’s, cloaking the large space in darkness and filling the room with a smoke-like substance.
Inside the room they had hidden Sobey’s staff throughout, it was our job to find and bring them back to ‘safety’.
My partner, Tony Mahaney, and I were first. As soon as we entered through the back double swinging doors we were shouted at to get low and to not lose contact with our partner.
We crawled on our hands and knees, not too easy a feat wearing our bunker gear and Scott air packs.
Everything was dark and I led the way with Tony keeping one hand connected to me while we both swept the area from side to side.
It was almost completely black and we were unable to see anything around us or what we were crawling through.
As well, hearing was difficult with the Darth Vader sounds of our masks.
I focused on evening my breath so as not to use too much air in my tank and continued to sweep the area while slowly crawling forward.
Tony yelled out ‘hello, is anyone here?’ intermittently. I’m not sure how he heard it because I was unable but he heard a muffled cry for help. Under a shelving unit and behind boxes was our first victim.
We crawled back with him until we reached the brightness of the fish section.
While we waited for our turn to go back in Tony asked me if I thought I could pull a person out of a building if they were unconscious.
Being a girl and vertically challenged, this is a question I often get from people when they learn I am a firefighter.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Well let’s find out,” said Tony.
He then went back into the storeroom and laid down at the back of the room face first.
I grabbed him by his back straps that attached to his Scott Pack and hauled his dead weight.
I dragged him a few feet forward.
I continued to pull him along, foot by foot, until I got him through the doors.
Panting, I removed my BA and the sweat poured down my face.
I did it! Mind you Tony is one of the lighter members but adding his gear, greatly added to his weight.
The second time I went through to search for more staff wasn’t as successful. Rather than pairing us with experienced members, I was paired with someone less experienced than me.
We had a much more difficult time communicating with each other and were not successful in finding a victim.
While we were all crawling through the trainers were sneaky and would reach up and turn off someone’s air supply.
When that happens the firefighter is unable to breath and must figure out quickly what went wrong, not panic.
In a real fire, this is something that can happen. The handle can sometimes get turned as the firefighter wriggles through tight spaces and they must be able to turn their air supply back on.
While the training was great practice is goes without saying I will not be performing a real search and rescue anytime soon. But I am one step closer.
The lessons I learned have been etched into my mind to be added to the ever-growing file that seems to be compiling.
It’s easy to keep focused, while I am not ready yet, one day it will be a real fire. There will be people in need of rescuing. One day, I will be the one to do it.
It’s a sobering thought, one that will propel me to work harder throughout my training so I will be armed with the skill and knowledge to do it.