Commentary by Ann Marie Shambaugh
As a journalist, I’ve always considered the opportunity to work closely with local fire and police departments as a benefit of my job. In recent years, I’ve ridden along on fire trucks to cover National Night Out parties, enjoyed a ride along with a police officer and even went on an EMS call in a medical helicopter.
But none of that compared to the first-hand look at what it takes to be a firefighter I received during Fire Ops 101, a program organized by the International Association of Firefighters Local 4416, which represents Zionsville and several Hamilton County departments. The daylong event is designed to primarily give local elected officials an up close look at any given day in the life of a firefighter, but IAFF 4416 President Tony Murray was kind enough to let me tag along for the training.
I joined Carmel city councilor elect Jeff Worrell and Cicero town councilor elect Chris Lutz on a team led by J.C. Mitchell of the Carmel Fire Department. Other participants included Zionsville Mayor Jeff Papa and Zionsville Town Council President Steve Mundy.
After being fitted for fire gear – which is heavier than it looks – each team went through four grueling stations. My team began with extrication, where we learned how to shatter windows and use extremely powerful machines to rip doors off cars to help victims of car accidents.
Next, we were thrust into an office scene where a man had suffered a cardiac arrest. It was a nonstop flurry of chest compressions (which are not easy, especially in a speeding ambulance), giving breaths with a special device and making life-and-death decisions on the spot. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally, and had our patient been an actual person, emotionally, too, as he was pronounced dead after all our hard work.
We got to sit back – but not relax – at the third station, where we crawled into modified big metal containers to watch the science of fire in action. Normally it’s not a good idea to intentionally start a blaze in a small, enclosed place and watch as it grows out of control, but after years of experience Capt. Scott Zelhart of the Fishers Fire Dept. kept the flames in front of and above us as we watched fire rage all around us.
Finally, we got a chance to climb a ladder in full gear– weighing in at more than 80 pounds – as we learned about battling fires from a roof. We also had the opportunity to crawl through a two-story smoke-filled building as we searched for a 180-pound victim and drag him to safety.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. And that was after only a few hours of work. There were no real lives on the line, no homes at risk of being lost.
I’ve always had a great amount of respect for firefighters, but going through Fire Ops 101 put it at a whole new level. These guys (and gals) truly put their lives on the line every time they clock in to work, as they never know what a day may bring. Make sure to thank them for protecting your community next time you have the chance. I know I will.