Bill Scanlon mug

Bill Scanlon

“You are about to become a member of a respected and essential profession: the fire and emergency service. As a firefighter, you will be required to perform strenuous physical labor and be exposed to high levels of mental and emotional stress as well as mortal danger.

“Yet, firefighters... continue to confront hazards, take risks and sustain their sacrifice. They also continue to take pride in the service they provide and their bond with fellow firefighters.”

These words are found on the first page of the first chapter of “Essentials of Firefighting,” the training Bible for the profession; published by the International Fire Service Training Association and used as the basis of instruction in the Norman Fire Department Recruit Academy, now in progress.

This 12-week academy teaches the history of the fire service, and all of the basics: building construction, fire behavior (for different types of fires), hazardous materials, ladders, hoses, victim search and removal, etc.

Recruits have been exposed to live fire scenarios, and how to extricate persons from vehicles. They’ve learned about water rescues and rappelling form high buildings.

More recently, they’ve had a block of instruction on public interface — lessons on how the public views the fire service and how to conduct home inspections, for example.

Recruits are just finishing the seventh week of the academy, the first of several weeks devoted to emergency medical services, something firefighters must be well-versed in, as they are often first on scene at an accident or fire.

Future training tasks include grass fires, forceable entry, a bike class and graduation Sept. 30.

I’ve spent a part of a few training days the past couple of weeks, auditing the training and observing the recruits.

Training has included that public interface training I mentioned, and a lecture by Fire Chief Travis King on Command Expectations — really, a description of the roles of fire captains exercising in-scene command of fire situations. King offered some real-world stories of problems confronted at various types of fires, and how these problems were solved.

I was interested to hear his emphasis on situational awareness: the task is not to immediately confront the fire but rather to assess the situation, with the intent of saving lives and property before attacking the fire (best approach to fire suppression is often dictated by these factors).

In another block of instruction, recruits were briefed in the city’s Employee Assistance Program.

This program is available to all city employees, and family members but holds special import for firefighters (and police, who will sooner or later face the mental and emotional stress referred to in the training manual.

A firefighter will at some point deal with casualties, and such things affect individuals in different ways.

A firefighter can’t go home and share the horror he/she might have just experienced but often needs someone to talk with.

The EAP provides confidential counseling services to help individuals through difficult times. Ron Wahkinney, of the Wellness Training Center, and Jackie Crumrine, of the city’s Human Resources Department, provided this vital instruction.

The last block of instruction was presented by Ariana Davis, founder of the L35 Foundation. Davis’ first husband was a firefighter in Derby, Kansas, who was killed in the line of duty.

She explained to Norman recruits the circumstances of her husband’s death while on duty and spared no details.

With pictures, she took us step-by-step through the events leading up to his electrocution by an exposed high voltage line. She emphasized the importance of situational awareness, the avoidance of distractions, the role of protective equipment, etc.

And then she took us through her trip to the hospital, the realization of his passing and the support she received from the brotherhood of firefighters.

Davis, under the auspices of the L35 Foundation, now lectures recruit academies on the importance of their jobs and training, the use of all available information available at the scene of a fire (King’s point about situational awareness) and how firefighters form a bond that lasts a lifetime — something she felt as she was coping with her husband’s passing — and still feels 15 years later as she visits stations around the Midwest.

I’ve been impressed with the quality of our fire recruits and the quality of training they’re receiving at the hands of Training Chief Jesse Mitchell.

As to the “firefighter bond” I referred to: I have coffee every Friday with retired Norman firefighters. Some of these folks have been retired 20 years or more, but that bond exists. They continue to help each other, whether repairing a tractor or working through some emotional issues. I’m privileged to share their company.

Bill Scanlon is a former Ward 6 city councilor who volunteers in support of the Norman Police Department and Norman Fire Department, and serves multiple city committees. Prior to his work in Norman, Scanlon served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force — where he last worked as chief of mission analyses under the assistant chief of staff for the Air Force, Studies and Analyses at the Pentagon — and worked for Northrop Grumman in Washington, D.C.

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