Monday’s session was designed to test each firefighter’s ability to use SCBA (an acronym for self-contained breathing apparatus) in situations that simulate real-life fire fighting work.

During the exercises, firefighters wear their usual protective gear including fire-resistant uniforms and oxygen tanks. GFD training officer Mike Murphree said besides his own weight, each firefighter carries about 100 pounds of additional weight in the form of gear.

Firefighters work in shifts of twelve personnel with 36 assigned personnel in all, Murphree said.

Each fire fighter’s vital signs are recorded prior to a rotation. Then the firefighters complete the training course doing activities that are as close as possible to real fire situations. For instance, the firefighters must drag a 175 pound rescue mannequin around the training tower to simulate removing a person from a fire. In another situation, the men use a Keiser sled, a device in which the firefighter uses a hammer to move a weight down a metal track. This simulates a firefighter using an ax to chop through a roof or a wall.

Murphree said there are eight different stations on the training course. “Each activity is related to activities that are performed on the fire ground,” he said.

“This is part of our wellness and fitness program,” Gainesville Fire Chief Steve Boone said.

Boone pointed out that each oxygen canister contains about 20 minutes worth of air. But in a real fire situation, firefighters’ breathing rates increase due to heat, stress and physical exertion. This increase in breathing rate causes firefighters to use up their oxygen more quickly.

As they work through the evolutions, fatigue becomes more of a factor. Another test helps gauge how well a firefighter is maintaining his eye-hand coordination. After completing several stations, the firefighters must pick up a softball or a baseball and move it from one orange cone to another. The cones are placed in a pattern several feet apart. Although it sounds simple, this activity is not an easy feat for exhausted firefighters who are wearing heavy equipment and thick gloves.

In a real life fire incident, firefighters work in small groups of at least two people, taking “rehab” breaks when they which oxygen bottles.

“On a typical fire ground,” Murphree said, “fire fighters usually use at least two air bottles. After changing bottles, they go on rehab which is a rest time of about 10-20 minutes.”

The most important information gained from the rotations is how well each firefighter learns to use the SCBA, Murphree said.

Even when they reach exhaustion the firefighters do not like to drop out of the training rotations.

“They’re strong-willed,” Murphree said. “These guys are aren’t quitters. It all has to do with the fitness of the firefighters. The better shape they’re in, the better they’re going to perform.”

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