One day in fireman's boots breeds empathy
If -- God forbid -- you ever find yourself suffering a heart attack or part of a violent automotive collision, rest easy knowing it won't be me rushing to save you.
Working as a journalist has helped me hone my touch-typing skills, but it hasn't prepared me to respond to a medical emergency, I found out this month.
On Aug. 17, I participated in the Fire Ops 101 program, a new hands-on course offered by the Liberty Township Fire Department designed to show some of the challenges of being a firefighter and paramedic. All employees of the local fire department are both.
Challenging it was.
I jumped in midway through the comprehensive six-hour course and was immediately tasked with rescuing two plastic dummies trapped inside a set of smashed-in cars following a T-bone collision.
I quickly learned the famous Jaws of Life isn't a lightweight tool.
The massive hand-held cutters and spreaders weigh about 40 pounds each and must be constantly repositioned to get the best angle on the mangled steel separating you from the injured victims within.
Halfway through the scenario, I paused to joke, "At what point do you get to stop and take a break?"
Outfitted in full fire gear, including a heavy suit, boots and helmet, and under the sweltering August sun, I was pooped.
Of course, in a real emergency, there are no breaks.
These victims were lifeless dummies, and the vehicles were scrap-yard junkers smashed up for effect, but the physical challenge of the exercise was very real.
The local fire department invited civic and community leaders to participate in the workshop. Fire Chief Tim Jensen said it was an opportunity to show local leaders what being a firefighter is really like.
Ultimately, just three showed up: Powell City Councilman Jim Hrivnak; Columbus Zoo Security Director Richard Rapp; and Roxie Dragoo, who helps to run the homeowner's association in Powell's Strathshire subdivision.
Nobody thinks being a firefighter or paramedic is easy. We all understand that both jobs take countless hours of training and that both are physically and emotionally difficult.
Yeah, maybe those giant cutters wouldn't have seemed so heavy if I hit the gym once in a while.
Still, I would have hoped to see more local leaders taking advantage of an eye-opening opportunity afforded by the Liberty Township Fire Department.
A Saturday-morning workshop may present some scheduling conflicts, and the chance to sleep in after a long work week can be tempting.
But the experience of performing an emergency intubation -- the practice of inserting a breathing tube down the throat of a patient in critical care -- while speeding down a winding, bumpy road in the back of a medic isn't one I'll soon forget.
As I struggled to get a clear view of the esophagus down the throat of a training dummy, my surroundings constantly jostling and jumping, I realized the practical realities of a medical emergency are worth knowing about.
I'm more thankful than ever that trained professionals are standing by in my community, ready to arrive on my doorstep at a moment's notice if I need them.
Meanwhile, township leaders are embroiled in a furious debate about the future of the local fire department.
On Nov. 6, voters will decide whether they want to keep fire and emergency medical services in their current state, or opt to cut costs.
Much of the debate is purely academic -- comparing budgets and staffing levels in the township with those in neighboring communities, for instance.
Other questions are more personal, such as asking how much firefighter-paramedics deserve to be paid for the work they do in the first place.
Whichever side of the debate you ultimately come down on, those decisions might be informed in some small way by a bit of mutual understanding.
The inaugural session of the Fire Ops 101 program wasn't the last. Jensen hopes to run the workshop in years to come.
Whatever happens this November, those who receive invitations next year might take some time to carefully consider attending.
Brett Nuckles is a staff reproter for ThisWeek Olentangy Valley News.