By: Henry Sacra
“Only 5 seconds left!” the fireman said as I walked the Stairmaster with 75 lb weights strapped to my body. Five seconds later, I collapsed. Before laying flat on the ground, all I heard was “Get the life-pack.”
Earlier that morning, I hoisted myself out of bed, took my medication, cracked myself out with coffee and got dressed, all reluctantly. After all, it was 7:15 AM. It was also a weekend. On top of this, I only got about 5 hours of sleep because of playing the catch up game in my virtual math class and of course, “Dance Moms” on Hulu.
Today was the day that I would go to Camp Fire and Iron, a day camp run at a Jenks fire station for those who are interested in becoming a firefighter. Being a natural-born lazy idiot as well as a pessimist, I was tempted to go back to bed. I am so glad I didn’t. This article not only serves as an experience piece for a school newspaper but also as a journal for me of a moment that has a great probability of changing my life. This is my experience at Camp Fire and Iron.
Eventually, I arrived. Almost instantly, my anxiety melted. First off, every single fireman and firewoman there was attractive. Secondly, almost all of them were slamming energy drinks (a few people were drinking my favorite, Ghost Energy!). On top of this, I slowly realized that it would be okay for me to socialize with the other potential future firefighters at the camp – they were all here for the same reason; they were here to broaden their horizons like I was trying to do.
Shortly after arriving, we were all given gear: A fireman’s coat, trousers with suspenders, glasses, gloves and a helmet. All together, these were pretty darn heavy. Then, the day truly began.
Everyone was placed and groups and told which activity to start at (the day camp is set up like a circuit). I got started at the “search and rescue” simulation, which was great fun. We were hooked up to oxygen and taught how to properly sweep rooms and hoist people out of said rooms. Naturally, we were then put in a room simulating this process. I, for one, didn’t progress through this room with grace. I was doing very well up until I found the dummy which weighed 200 pounds, if not more. The dummy also had a child with it, which I may have killed via manhandling. There was a point where I tapped out as well – this is probably a no-no in a real fire rescue. If this were a real situation, everyone would have died. Myself, the adult and especially the baby. I ended this module with knees in pain but a want to do better and a greater appreciation for our fire workers. Overall, it was a lesson on teamwork, communication and keeping your cool.
After each module, everyone took a break. During the first break, I met some really, really cool like minded people who I genuinely believe are going to be lifetime friends. The break closed and we eventually moved to our second module which was forcible entry. My group was particularly good at this – we learned how to breach doors. I was paired up with a 20 year old Army medic who was on my team. We ROCKED that door every single time. There wasn’t much to say about this module as it consisted of clear and concise information that, if followed, would indeed open a locked door. Though, the fireman did leave us with a good bit of advice:
“In all honesty, I have only cleared a door in the ‘proper way’ like, uh… once. Usually we just kick the s**t out of it.”
After this, we had lunch. It was burgers and hot dogs that the firemen grilled only a few yards away from us. They were delectable. I sat down with a firewoman and spoke about the job with her. In summary, she praised the flexibility of the job, the opportunities it gives and how people can work as a fireman and also complete college at the same time (and how the system is built to support this). The flexibility is amazing for many reasons, but the schedule is especially worth mentioning. Many full time firefighters work on a “24-48” schedule. This means they are at the firehouse for 24 hours and then get two days off. Plenty of firemen have side hustles or businesses because of this flexibility. Of course, she also liked how the job kept fresh and interesting.
On the topic of benefits, this quote from a firefighter I spoke to is worth mentioning:
“Ya know how many people say ‘most firefighters retire millionaires’? It’s true.”
He then went on to praise many of the financial benefits firefighters receive.
The lunch ended and we began our next module. A physical – no big deal, right? A friend I had made (shout out to Leahla), who was a tiny girl in comparison to me, almost completed the whole physical! On top of this, another friend (Tristan) did complete the physical and only needed to shave off about 2 or 3 minutes to pass it. So, when it was my turn to start, I started with confidence. The first section of the physical was the Stairmaster for 3:20 with 75lb weights. I put on the weights and got on the Stairmaster; no big deal! For the first 20 seconds, I was really confident. I thought that they might just have to make me a fireman on the spot! At about half way through, I wanted to quit. When there was around 30 seconds left, I felt funny. But, I persevered.
“Only 5 seconds left!” the fireman said as I walked the Stairmaster with 75 lb weights strapped to me. Five seconds later, I collapsed. Before laying flat on the ground, all I heard was “Get the life-pack.”
Immediately after stepping off of the Stairmaster, my body began to shut down. Even after I had collapsed I was having some tunnel vision. But, let me tell you, the best place to have an event like this is the firehouse. Before I knew it, they had me on a monitoring machine and were taking my vitals. They got me some fluids and above all, genuinely showed care and compassion. After laying on the floor and stabilizing for a bit, I got up, did a *wobbly* sprint to the bathroom and projectile vomited.
“Don’t worry, it isn’t the first time,” said a fireman who was trying to calm me down and make me feel better, “and it won’t be the last.”
In hindsight, I am glad what happened had happened. It showed me what I needed to work on and how truly out of shape I was. After a bit of rest, we moved on to the next module – hoses!
I have never seen a 30 year old man get so excited about hoses and water, but honestly, seeing how big of gearheads all of these firemen are made me feel even more at home. I geek out about stuff like this all the time! In this module, we learned how to tap into a fire hydrant, how to hook up a hose to it, how to handle the hose and a little bit more. We got drenched, and it was so fun. At one point, the army medic “accidentally” sprayed one of the firemen in the face with a high-psi hose. He laughed it off – in all honesty, everyone was just having a good time. I am also happy I got to play with more gear; the hands-on aspect of this camp is what really made it extremely interesting for me.
We then progressed to the final module of the day, “Vehicle-Extract”. I am not kidding when I say this – I got to rip off the top of a car with giant robotic crab hands and break glass with specialized glass breaking tools. It was hard work but it was really fun.
After this, our day basically came to a close. There was a relay race to deploy a hose that I opted out of because I was so gassed. There was also a fire truck with a ladder extended to about 3 or 4 stories that the participants could climb. I didn’t opt out of this because I love heights!
So, to close, I would like to thank all of the firefighters and event organizers for organizing this event. I am more excited about what the future holds for me, I pushed myself and I met some really great people (who I would love to fight fires with in the future). Doing this camp was a highly transformative experience for me and I hope that you choose to push yourself and broaden your horizons; it might just change your life.
While this was the first camp held, the fire department(s) may be holding another one next year! Keep your eyes peeled for an email in your school Gmail inbox; this is where the next camp opportunity may pop up!