Friday, July 22, 2016

Tower ladder training: be fearless

I remember seeing firefighters in the bucket of the Tower ladder, or climbing the Tower ladder toward a burning building. I saw that several times when I watched nearby at the scene with my press badge displayed on my lanyard, my reporter’s notebook in one hand and my pen in the other. I had a simple thought: wow, I would never do that.

I honestly probably thought about that often when on scene reporting what happened. I imagine I shared the same thought as the public who read about the fires or watched as it unfolded.

As a reporter and bystander, I gave a lot of credit to firefighters for what they do. Now as a part of the fire service, I give even more credit to firefighters. Two years into my career as a journalist I joined my local fire company. Soon after that I began learning and practicing the firefighting skills that I saw on scene as reporter.

I’m not eligible to operate the bucket on our Tower on the fire ground because I’m still in training. We take our time training and getting comfortable using the controllers to move the bucket up, down, left, right, forward toward buildings and back down toward the apparatus. We are learning how to put our master stream into service from the bucket to flow water. 

Ginger Rae Dunbar and several firefighters are training how to operate the bucket on the Tower and how to put the master stream into service during drill nights. 
I wondered how I would handle the movement in the bucket. While I love roller-coasters and other amusement rides, sometimes I suffer from motion sickness on planes and ships. However, the bucket is nothing like the tea cups and the movement of the bucket takes some getting used to. It feels like you’re standing in a partially enclosed outdoor elevator. 

The first time I climbed the 95-foot Tower ladder and stepped into the bucket, I asked the senior firefighter if the movement of the bucket bothered him. He smiled and said he was used to it. That let me know we could get used to that feeling too if we continue being in the bucket and operating it.

I was comforted that my fellow firefighters in training to operate the bucket were also nervous. It is new to all of us, and we all want to be able to operate it one day. The first handful of times we climbed the Tower ladder and operated the bucket were nerve-wrecking, which the senior member with us noticed. As we stood safely inside they noticed our “death-grip” on the bucket, like we held on for dear life. The comforting part is that the bucket cannot flip over and we wear ladder belts that strap us in the bucket for our safety.

The more we practice, the easier it is getting and the more comfortable we are becoming.

“Be fearless,” Jim Callahan, my late mentoring editor would tell me and the other reporters. “Go forth.”

It was in reference to being fearless when interviewing and reporting. I remember one day he shouted it across the newsroom with a grin to a reporter who needed advice. He wanted the reporter to be persistent, a common part of our job. He didn’t want the reporters to give in and walk away without trying.

Callahan had the philosophy of you’re a curious reporter doing your job, and his encouragement to be fearless applies to the fire service.

Firefighters are persistent and determined on the job, physically or mentally in every task. Firefighters have to be fearless, even when they are scared. We are diligent in every steadfast move, whether we are in training or at an emergency call.

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