‘We do it because we love it:’ Behind the scenes of firefighter training

‘We do it because we love it:’ Behind the scenes of firefighter training
Firefighters head into the "burn cottage" to practice putting out live burns. (Source: KLTV)

ATHENS, Texas (KLTV) - Just like any other career, firefighters have to go through training. What exactly that training consists of may surprise some people.

Two minutes. That’s how much time firefighters have to put on all of their gear. Gear that costs upwards of $2,300.

“During training, you also learn how to train to put your gear on really quickly because when you’re working you can’t just take willy-nilly to put your gear on,” said Haley Jeffcoat a career firefighter and paramedic and an instructor at the Henderson County Fire Chiefs School. “It’s an emergency, so you have to leave quickly.”

You then go through the “smoke house” practicing constant contact and communication with your fellow firefighters.

“There is a buddy system; you always hear two in and two out, so when you go in you have to go with somebody,” said Jeffcoat. “You really can’t see them because it’s so dark in there, so with the communication, you can make sure you’re with your partner because you don’t want to leave anybody in there.”

Then the firefighters practice live burns in the “burn cottage”.

“It can get up to about 2200 degrees,” said Jeffcoat about the temperature in the burn cottage where they practice live burns. “What we do is simulate what a house could be like. This has rooms in it like a normal house would have. We teach them how to search... we teach them all these things; here we implement it all. They have to rescue a firefighter, rescue a person, put out a fire.”

For volunteer and paid firefighters, the training is the same. It’s more than 500 hours of initial training and about 100 hours of training every year after.

“If you only do it once in a blue moon, you’re going to lose your skills and your knowledge, so we train on different things every month, depending on where you work at,” said Jeffcoat. “You can become certified in swift water or anything like that, but you also have training on forcible entry, training on extrication, training on hose deployment, hose handling. So, you just keep brushing up on those skills because if you lose them you won’t be any help to anybody.”

“Senior firefighters still roll hose, they still pump trucks. These are things they know, but if you don’t do it enough you become rusty," said Coffee City Fire Chief, Chris Moore. “I guess they call it muscle memory.”

Although the training is intense, those who do it said it’s important.

“Volunteer or career, we’re professional. We’re going to have to be trained, and you expect a trained person to come out to help you, so that’s why training is really important to us,” said Jeffcoat. “We do it because we love it, we do it because we’re here for you, we’re problem solvers.”

Moore said about 70 percent of firefighters in the United States are volunteer and a lot of East Texas departments are as well.

“Volunteers save their local cities and communities lots of money by not having to pay people,” said Moore. “Your pharmacist may be a volunteer (firefighter), your water guy, your street guy, your baker.”

He said he hopes people realize that they can volunteer for fire departments and not have to fight fires or not have to go on medical calls.

“Your fire departments can use you for everything from rehab to pumping trucks,” said Moore. "If you like medical, you can do medical and you don’t have to fight fires. If you want to fight fires and not do medical, you don’t have to do medical, but there is something for you to support your community and your fire department.”

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