Ellet and Stark State Team Up For Fire Training

Where There is Smoke ...
Posted on 09/14/2018
Image of Fire Service Trailing(Craig Webb writing for Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

The room was dark and full of smoke.

Oh, yeah, with the exception of that huge wall of flames in the center.

I struggled Thursday to keep the fire hose on the licking flames and keep death at bay to protect myself and the real firefighters behind me in the fire training building at Stark State in Jackson Township.

If this wasn’t stressful enough, I was about to fall over from the pressure of the fire hose and the heavy weight of the 60 to 65 pounds of gear on my back.

It hit me. I am a goner.

And then things got even worse as if my awful aim with the hose wasn’t bad enough.

The flames started snaking their way to the ceiling.

And faster than I could yell: “Hey, isn’t this what happened in that Kurt Russell movie in the 1990s?”

A backdraft.

Flames raced across the ceiling faster than my chicken arms could swing the heavy fire hose up to fight them back.

The flames quickly retreated back to the wall only to flare up again and race across the ceiling.

The simulation operators must have sensed my fear because they certainly couldn’t make out the sheer terror on my face through my mask fogged up by my tears and mercifully shut off the gas to the flames.

As we retreated from the simulated burn building at the Stark State fire academy there were plenty of high-fives and shouts of “How was it?”

I just nodded.

Truth be told, I couldn’t lift my arms if I tried.

The good news is I survived and didn’t kill my partner for the day and new best friend Cris Burkhardt from the Canton Fire Department.

The bad news is there were still more simulations to go on the Fire Ops 101 one-day experience for public officials to get a real taste of what it really means to be a firefighter.

I can tell you — it means a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of sweating and a lot of really dangerous tasks.

The other stations included a two-story house so full of smoke with some rooms so dense that you can’t even see your oven mitts — that’s what the heavy special fire gloves felt like on.

Our mission there was to rescue those trapped inside.

Let’s just say the family (actually heavy dummies) should be thankful Burkhardt was there to rescue them.

I missed everything including the last step going down the smoke-filled staircase of the home.

Gravity is not a friend to my 50-year-old frame and adding another 60 or so pounds of gear in the mix is a recipe for disaster. Good thing Burkhardt was there to catch me.

Thankful to shed the heavy breathing apparatus for our next simulated fire call for people trapped inside a wrecked car, my enthusiasm was tempered by the tarp full of equipment we would need to use — each heavier than the next.

The first task was to break the car’s windows. Actually this was fairly simple with a cool metal gadget they have that springs out against the glass and shatters it.

The windshield was a whole different matter.

The window tints are great unless you have to break them. It took strategic whacks with a heavy sledgehammer.

Since dragging victims out of the windshield is not a practical option, we had to turn to the 50-pound, so-called jaws of life and equally heavy special cutters to remove the car’s doors.

The metal twisting instead of breaking made the task no simple matter.

The final station, at least for me, was climbing to the top of a 75-foot ladder truck.

Still a bit woozy from helping to spread a fire, not finding victims in a burning house and taking the door off of a car with the dexterity of someone opening a can of tuna with a fork — I thought what else could possibly go wrong.

Now mind you, I’m the guy who can make a ladder shake while cleaning the gutters over the porch of my house so I warned them this could be an adventure.

Let’s just say I was moving at a snail’s pace as I began my ascent.

Soon the combination of my oven-mitt gloves, heavy boots, turnout gear drenched in sweat and age won out.

So about a third of the way up — I may be being generous here — my fight-or-flight instinct kicked in.

“I’m good,” I shouted and began an equally slow descent.

I must not have looked good as the real firefighters kicked into high gear and grabbed chunks of ice to cool me down. It was the first real rescue of the day.

My short-lived firefighter career was done.

Canton firefighter Scott Ryter, who is an instructor at the academy, said many folks do not realize the stress — both mental and physical — that rescuers have to go through day in and day out.

This is why they periodically invite decision makers to the training facility to see what it’s really like to be a firefighter by doing the actual job in a contained environment.

It is also a chance to show off what the academy has to offer to prospective students and even those in high school.

They offer college-credit training to Stark County kids in high school along with those at Akron’s Ellet High School.

It is also a way to show the importance of training and the real dangers of the job.

Ryter is still recovering from an injury he suffered in March.

It wasn’t a house fire but a heroin overdose that put him on the sidelines.

He was making his way down a flight of stairs to administer naloxolone to a patient when a step gave way.

Ryter fell down the stairs and a fellow firefighter on his heels fell on top of him injuring his shoulder.

“It happens,” he said.

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