Academy trainees brave the heat
Recruits try to prove they have what it takes to join Fire Department
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And where there’s fire, there’s the Grand Junction Fire Department ready to put it out.
To do that, though, its firefighters have to be trained, and 16 of them were doing just that on Thursday.
Working next to the Colorado Army National Guard Recruitment Center off of Riverside Parkway, the young firefighters admitted to the department’s fire academy got their first taste of live fire, a car fire that is.
“This is our second-biggest class ever, 15 guys and one gal,” said department spokesman Dirk Clingman. “A couple of them were EMTs (emergency medical technicians) for us, and some are fresh new hires.”
On Thursday, they were halfway through 13 weeks of training, but the day was the first with them playing with fire.
That training involved setting a vehicle — stripped of any gasoline or other explosive elements — on fire, and the trainees taking turns practicing putting it out. It was loaded with wood instead.
Mostly, the training gave them a chance to feel what handling a real firehose feels like, Clingman said.
“Car fires are one of the few trainings we can do locally,” he said. “We do not have live-fire facilities. We have land for that in Whitewater, but we don’t have any funds to build it. That’s an ongoing need for the department.”
Despite the high temperatures outside, the trainees donned full gear, known as bunkers, complete with face masks, air packs and orange fire helmets.
While those bunkers can withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees, a car fire can reach temperatures of more than twice that, some of the firefighters said.
At the same time, they have to handle a firehose that puts out anywhere from 100 to 140 pounds of water per square inch.
In short, it’s no garden hose.
But the real danger to firefighters isn’t from any of that. It’s the stress such work puts on the body, particularly the cardiovascular system, Clingman said.
“We have a very physical job where we expose you to poisonous chemicals, and we make sure you’re hot all the time,” he said. “So being physically fit and being very aware of your health status is very important.”