The Los Medanos Fire Academy meets every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6-10 pm, every Saturday from 8am to 6pm, and every other Sunday for approximately 8-10 hours.  Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually classroom days and are accompanied by lectures from various instructors, at varying locations.   Those days aren’t too rough.  It’s the Saturdays and Sundays that have been kicking our asses.

Days 8 and 9 were a Tues/Thurs combo.  They weren’t too bad.  We had a quiz, on which I did better than I thought I would.  We had lectures and things ran pretty smooth.  Not a whole lot to tell except that we covered topics like water supply and hydrants, and other related bits.

Day 7 was the killer.  This was a Saturday and the weather in Pittsburg, California was into triple digits by the afternoon.  It was a scorcher to say the least.

As is standard protocol we showed up in our class B uniforms, which are your standard “on-duty” uniforms that firefighters wear around the station and in public.

We left our bags in the classroom and met in the parking lot for our morning marching drills.  We marched about halfway around campus to the storage containers where the turnout gear is kept.  We arrived sweaty and hot, but Captain Grillo placed us in the shade of the trees and engine company by engine company we were issued our gear.

First I should note that there are 33 cadets in our academy broken up into 8 groups or “engine companies” of 4 people each.  We make up the ‘battalion’.  The 33rd cadet, Jacob Chavis is the Battalion Captain.  He was chosen for this role by Captain Grillo because of his previous military experience and because he currently works in an EMS/Firefighter capacity at a local refinery.  Captain Chavis has done an excellent job so far.

The gear we were issued was essentially the complete firefighting outfit.  We were all sized for boots, an SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) mask and tank, helmet, and of course the full turnout pants and coat.  Prior to the start of the academy, we’d all bought our NFPA approved gloves separately.

When everybody had their outfits complete, we were instructed to suit up.  We were allowed to take our shirts off and wear just our undershirts, but with our pants on, we donned our turnouts and then began practicing the drill every firefighter in the country knows best – how to put on your turnouts FAST!

We practiced taking them off, and putting them back on, over and over again.  The minimum goal is to do it all within 2 minutes, but we’re all shooting for under a minute.  In full, we’re stepping out of our station boots, and getting into out boots and turnout pants.  Then on with the coat, flash hood, and oxygen tank followed by the oxygen mask which needs to be connected to the tank and have the air pressure checked.  then pull the flash hood over the mask, get your helmet on, and pull on your gloves.  Often, pulling on your gloves takes the longest.  They’re tight and by that point, you’re actually a bit winded.  Of course, the LMC equipment is old and not exactly a proper fit for most of us.  If we were hired at by a department, we’d surely have newer (and fresher smelling) equipment than the old recycled stuff we’re using here, and I suspect with a bit of practice we’d all be trimming our time down by a bunch.

As the day reached it’s peak in heat, most of the shade was gone and we were sweating up a storm.  Those turnouts are anything but air conditioned and the on-off routine we were doing had us sweating buckets.  Finally, we were given a break as four of the fastest cadets were brought together for a little friendly competition.  From my own engine company 7 was Daniel Saballos competing against former professional baseball player Brandon Buckley (engine co. 1), Brian Means (engine co. 5), and Scott Pitchford (engine co. 6).  In just under a minutes time, the winner was Brian Means, but all four were amazing to watch.

Though this post simplifies the experience we all shared into a brief and simple explanation of the days activities, it was actually a long, grueling and extremely hot day.  I figure this is a good thing because as it turns out fires too, are hot; and fighting them I can only imagine, is grueling.  Just know if you’re considering going into the fire academy, it’s going to be a challenge from the very start.  Those of us who were there on this Saturday the 29th of August, 2009 will surely always remember the day we got our gear.