KWWL reporter experiences life as a firefighter - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Experiencing life as a Waterloo firefighter

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Saturday, a group of Cedar Valley lawmakers, Waterloo city leaders, and members of the press took part in Waterloo's inaugural Fire-Ops 101 training. It was a chance to experience a day in the life of a firefighter or paramedic. KWWL's Colleen O'Shaughnessy suited up for the exercise. The following is her account of the day's activities.

I've always had the utmost respect for what firefighters go through every time they go on a call, but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to experience it first-hand. Let alone, with Waterloo's city clerk, several state lawmakers and city council members.

We're all experts in our own field, but none of us had experienced anything like this before. Oh, and did I mention it was hot? Very, very hot.

"I was thinking -- oh, it'll be nice to get different perspectives of what the different departments do. I was not thinking -- I'm going to get the workout of my life! But I'm getting it," said city clerk Suzy Schares.

Firefighters split us into four groups and we began to make our way through several training stations, each designed to give us an idea of what they do on an average day.

"We have a four minute response time in the city. So when an alarm goes off, we're in our vehicles, performing the activities you're doing today in less than four minutes," said David Floyd, a Waterloo firefighter and the president of the local firefighters union.

As you might imagine, it took us longer than four minutes. At our team's first stop, we blindly made our way into a pitch black, smoke-filled building to search for a dummy, then put out a simulated fire. Once again, can I stress how hot it was? Besides the ninety degree weather, we were wearing heavy pants, a jacket, air tank, and face mask.

The face mask caused the most problems. At one point, Schares was forced to leave an exercise early because she was having a hard time breathing properly.

"I guess I knew this job was dangerous, but I didn't realize how physical it is," Schares noted.

Luckily, the only real injuries we experienced were skinned knees.

From there, we tackled vehicle extrication -- also known as the jaws of life. Cutting open a car was fun, and much less strenuous than our next task -- a nationally recognized firefighter's training course, which is appropriately titled, the Combat Course.

"I'm pretty positive we're winning!" Schares joked. "We're both on the same team, so we have to be winning!"

So what if no one was keeping score? The activities required us to work together as a team, and every day, Waterloo firefighters are doing the same every day -- but unlike us, they can't quit when they're tired.

"We always say it's not an occupation, it's a vocation. We're here because this is what we wanted to do all of our lives," said Floyd.

Our final challenge -- extinguishing a real car fire. It may be the first time all day that the heat was not on my mind. After we wrapped up the scenarios, I asked Floyd if he thought I would make a good addition to the department. His response?

"Heck yeah! I think you'd do just fine. We're testing in a few months. I'll put in a good word for ya!" said Floyd.

At the end of the day, I was hot, tired, and dirty. Although it was clear I'll never make firefighting my second career, I had a blast trying. Professionally, the next time I am sent to the scene of a fire or accident, I have a better understanding of how hard the men and women are working. Personally, I feel safer knowing we have trained professionals on the department protecting our health and property.

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