Thursday, June 30, 2016

A new challenge: the Tower Ladder

For some reason I like climbing ladders. I’m not afraid of heights. It’s the feeling of a falling motion that bothers me.

After fire school, I wanted to continue my in-house training and get bucket-qualified on our Tower which reaches 95 feet off the ground. Our company began the training for several of us who are eligible. Most of our senior members are already qualified and they have encouraged us along the way.

One requirement that initially made us nervous is climbing the ladder up and down in full gear. We practiced it because there is a chance that we may climb to rotate out firefighters. I preferred climbing up rather than climbing down.

Before we climbed the ladder, our fellow firefighters wished us luck. When we climbed down after we completed the task, each firefighter said good job. That’s what I like about the crew. Encouragement goes a long way. During fire school at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training School, we received positive reinforcement from the instructors.

“Give praise,” authors Chip R. Bell and Ron Zemke said, “and give it generously.”

All of us operated the controls in the bucket during a few training nights with a firefighter overseeing our progress. It felt like we operated the bucket like an amusement ride. Between the enjoyable view and the firefighters who supervised us and helped us stay focused, that made me less nervous as we did this. Their crucial role helped during the times that the movement of the bucket got to me. I plan to keep practicing to become familiar with the controls and terminology to extend the ladder forward and retract it back, raise and lower, and rotate it left and right, as well as how to flow water.

Ginger Rae Dunbar and several other firefighters are training on the Tower to get bucket-qualified, learning to use the controls and flow water during drill nights.

When something in the fire service makes me nervous, but I want to do it and be successful, I’ll give the effort to try. I think about how I can decide to walk away and try another time, but I first have to attempt it. There are a few good quotes about courageous acts that are not in the absence of fear, but for something greater. An unknown speaker said a quote I keep in mind during those times that I’m nervous to perform a task:

“Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.”

It perfectly describes what anyone does when they act despite their fears. Some firefighters don’t like heights or don’t like climbing ladders, but they will climb despite their fear. Sometimes doing so has helped them to get past it.

I interviewed Captain Robert Pate of the 28th Infantry Division in the National Guard who said the military can help the service members to overcome their fears.

During a veteran’s day event at a Downingtown school, Pate talked about his fear of heights and his two options: graduate from airborne school or leave the service.

“The military, all branches, they’re very good at exposing your deepest fears,” Pate said. “Mine was the fear of heights. I couldn’t stand it. I could not walk up three rungs of the ladder without getting all shaky.”

Despite the injuries he suffered during several jumps, Pate called it a rewarding experience to overcome his fear.

When we climbed ladders at fire school, the instructors advised us to keep our eyes on the rungs and only look at your hands on the rungs as you move up or down. This prevents you from looking down at the ground as you climb. I used that tip as I climbed the Tower ladder to reach the bucket. I focused on the rungs and then my destination, as one instructor described a way to focus on climbing before you get to your task.

There’s no shame if you can’t do something. With numerous other tasks that need to be completed on the fire ground, the line officers remind us that everyone can find something to do.

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