Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good to Go in Seattle

After several years of development and a lot of tweaking of the model, we rolled out our first Good To Go (G2G) initiative at the Seattle Fire Department’s JTA (Joint Training Academy), May 12 and 13. Leading the charge was James Hilliard, Battalion Chief and Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge competitor.

The didactic program was organized around the Firefighter Survival Manual (FSM) - the book currently being developed to support this unique training package. Coupled with Chief Hilliard’s enthusiasm, the Seattle firefighters were an impressive group. Over a two-day, repeating schedule, almost 90 firefighters and officers showed up- on their own time to attend the day-long seminar and workshop.

The morning’s classroom session covered the first four chapters of the FSM, including topics on health risk factors, medical screening, fitness benefits and fire suppression physiology. Lunch was covered by the Officer’s Association and mentor-coaches formed up three platoons that rotated every 20 minutes across the Climb/Hoist, Forcible Entry and Lift/Drag stations.

Once the familiarity phase was done, everyone donned their bunkers and a Scott NX-G7 Air-Pak and walked (no racing) through the course, two at a time. Virtually everyone came in well under the suggested 6:00 cutoff and earned their G2G tee shirt and certificate. What an impressive group of professionals!

Now, back to the drawing board for a few tweaks in the PowerPoint presentation and the protocols, then we’re taking requests from other interested departments across the nation. I realize that the criterion tasks that comprise the Essential Function Test (EFT) might seem daunting to the uninitiated. But what the G2G program demonstrates is that if you pace yourself, you can probably finish comfortably on less than half of a :30 bottle of air.

At the conclusion of the EFT course, we polled a number of Seattle firefighters for their reactions. The common thread- this is not unlike a good “worker.” Some remarked that they had been to fires that were more demanding. The consensus was that unlike a real fire, the EFT had a finish line and knowing that, “gutting it out” for five minutes was a reasonable reflection of the physical demands of structural firefighting.

Many opined that knowing that their crew could successfully complete the EFT was reassuring, since it removed the ambiguity of uncertainty about the capabilities of who was backing you up. Everyone was on board with the “fit firefighter was a safe firefighter.“ As we all know, if you go down at the scene, we’ve not only lost you, but probably another four guys that will be taken out of action to haul you off to the ambulance.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Necessity, the Mother of Invention

I'm headed East out of Seattle, writing this week's BlogSpot at 35,000 feet. Not that it's unusual for me to compose stuff on airplanes, but this time, I'm actually POSTING it while in flight thanks to SWA's new WiFi system. Who would ever have thought you could surf the web from five miles up? Technology is truly marvelous.

One of the features of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is its simplicity. Aside from the Keiser Force Machine, there’s not a lot of sophisticated equipment required. This past week, I think that I’ve seen a new level of innovation; Jake Bange of Seattle FD is now carrying his version of the FCC course in the back of his Chevy pickup truck.

Lots of Competitors have used car tires to replicate dragging the hose. But, the fidelity of one tire looses something in the translation since the friction weight starts to go geometric as you add more length to the real hose drag. Then, there’s that pesky sensation when the second section “kicks in” and spins you around.

We haven’t done the definitive study to precisely identify the exact weight, but 240 pounds on the dynamometer was the value that I obtained the last time I measured the 1.75” hose fully extended. Jake has figured out a way to replicate the spin-around effect: use two tires, separated by a rope of approximately 20 feet. You take off with the first tire and then the second one kicks in. The great thing about this prop is that the country is awash with thousands of worn out mounted light duty truck tires. You can use a large eye bolt and big washer to penetrate the center of the tire tread. Or, if you’ve got the rim, just thread a rope or strap through the center hole and one of the lug bolt holes.

Jake gets triple duty out of his props; the tire can be used as a substitute for the Keiser station, or with a harness, towing the whole ensemble backwards really taxes the legs. You can bang away on the tire while standing on it, all the while getting a pretty good forearm workout just like what you’d feel on the sled. I tried the backwards drag and the legs definitely get a great pump.

There’s one more station that can be replicated with the tire; use a wider tire laying on its side as a step and move your feet up and down as fast as you can. Do about 60 counts to give you a reasonable facsimile for climbing the tower. Throw your shoulder load on for more intensity.

One more prop- the elastic stretching bands can be a substitute for the hose hoist. A nice wide sheet works pretty well; not as good as kettle bells, but you can replicate the biomechanics reasonably well.

So, there you have it. Almost the entire setup, for next to nothing in cost. And, oh yeah, the pickup truck ensures that wherever you go, you’ve got it: your own Challenge training course.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Contraband Days

One of the great things about the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge is the interesting places you get to go and the people you meet. This past weekend was no exception. Lake Charles (LA) is home to the second largest event in the state (after Mardi Gras). It’s based on the activities of the French Gulf Coast pirate, Jean LeFitte and his exploits, including the sequestering of a treasure trove that people still search for. Besides having the mayor of Lake Charles walk the gangplank, he did help the US during the war of 1812. Check it out on Wikipedia. But enough of that.

I want to recognize the Challenge competitors and organizers of this event. We were last in town in 2003. From the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and of course the home state came over 100 participants. We were ready for some warmer weather and this weekend was perfect. Not only was the event on the front page of the local paper, but we also had coverage on the NBC local affiliate.

Lots of new people and some that we’ve haven’t seen in some time, including former two-time King of the Jungle, MSgt Eric Akers, USMC (ret), sporting long hair and a beard! Dave Bowman did an outstanding job, and in his inimitable, understated fashion said, “I’m okay with that.”

But the person who deservedly warrants a proper shout out is Cheri Ardoin. Putting together the fabric of a successful event can be a thankless task. It takes coordination with multiple city agencies, sponsors and support systems like EMS and concessions. As this event would go into the night, even the lighting needed to be addressed. Cheri pulled this off singlehandedly and on top of it all, took 11 seconds off her personal best! That had to be sweet in front of the home crowd.

I was remiss since I did not get video of the perfect biomechanics of her dummy lift and drag. This would be schoolroom perfect for anyone starting out in the Challenge. When I complimented her, she said that she was routinely practicing with a 190 pound dummy, so this one was easy. Her time of 3:21 is exemplary and even more so when you consider that she’s a whopping 131-lb, 41 y.o. mother!

Now, where’s the next person who’s wimping out about how tough this competition is?