April 19th, 2024

Fire department recruits being put through the paces

By Lethbridge Herald on April 2, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard A new Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services recruit performs a ladder bail at a training session Wednesday morning at Fire Station #4.

Dale Woodard
Lethbridge Herald
For Joey Eggins, it was a career change brought on by little insistence from his sibling, while for Tamara Labas, it was a return to a familiar venue.
On Wednesday morning at Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services Fire Station #4, school was in session for Eggins, Labas, Kelsea Foster as well as six other Lethbridge Fire Department recruits.
“We’re doing three months of recruit training and fire fighting,” said Labas. “We’re at about two-and-a-half, almost three weeks (in) and we’ve been learning a ton.”
Wanting to become a paramedic, Labas did her practicum a Fire Station 4 roughly two years ago.
“The guys I was training with were just amazing and it solidified the idea I wanted to be here full time for my career,” she said. “Three years later I ended up here.”
After 12 years in the oil patch, Eggins — who hails from Medicine Hat — knew it was time for a career change, but had a little coaxing from his brother.
“My brother is a paramedic and for years he bugged me to get into this profession and for years I told him ‘no’, but eventually I gave in and went to school and got my paramedic,” said Eggins.
“As well, I got my fire fighting cerfifications and the two of them combined led me down the road to come here.”
Foster did her practicum in an integrated service.
“I found out about firefighting and paramedic together and thought it was an awesome concept,” she said. “I really wanted to be a part of it.”
On Wednesday morning, the recruits practised the ladder bail, a procedure in which a firefighter must exit a building quickly when the flames are closing in on them by diving head first down the ladder, turning themselves around and sliding down the ladder.
“This week we have captain (Mitch) Fowler running them through fire ground survivability skills,” said fire training officer Mark Matheson.
“If they were inside of an upper story room that’s going to flash over or turn into a big ball of fire, they have to learn how to get out safe and quickly. So they’re practising that by the way of going head first out the window and down a ladder.”
Matheson said they’ve had numerous recruit classes, partially to fill retirements and people leaving, but also to provide staff for the new west side station which will be opening this summer.
“So we have a great need for staff. This is another intake of recruits we have going.
“We have nine great selections we’ve found.
“The new recruits will finish their formal training in mid-June and will start a mentorship program early this spring and we’ll see them on the streets in the summer.”
Thus far, the training has been extensive, said Eggins, who chose Lethbridge due to their integrated service providing emergency medicine and fire fighting.
“The training we’re doing (Wednesday) with the ladders, you hope you never have to use that training in-person because this is a last-ditch effort where you’re bailing out the window.”
It’s a physically demanding procedure, but Matheson said the recruits are being trained to tackle it.
“A fair amount of fitness is involved, for sure,” he said.
“Captain Fowler has them doing a fitness block every day as well. So they’re flipping tires and running stairs and things like that to keep in shape.”
Training over the past year has been altered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are quite a few changes,” said Matheson. “We have to practise the masking and the social distancing. We keep the class in their own bubble. We have a smaller class, so it’s less than 10. So we’ve had to adapt, but we’ve had to train and get our personnel up to speed.”
Matheson said they’ve had classes as big as 18 recruits and as small as four.
“But with COVID we’re trying to keep it under 10, for sure.”
Eggins took stock of the pandemic adjustments the recruits have had to make over the past three weeks.
“We try and keep our distance as well as we can and when we can’t keep our distance we’re obviously wearing masks. Any time we’re indoors we’re always wearing masks. It takes a little more time to get through the training just because of that.”
Foster said the nine recruits has developed a bond since training began.
“Spending every day together, you’re kind of forced to get close, but it’s a lot of fun. Everyone is easy going and it’s quite easy to get along with everybody.”
When the sessions are done, all three recruits are looking forward to taking their training into the field.
“I like to have the most positive impact I can when people are calling us in their darkest hour, so we have to be ready and be able to show up and help them with whatever their problems are,” said Eggins.
Labas was looking forward to getting back on the ambulance.
“I’ve been off the ambulance for a little bit with this training and previous jobs. So I’m looking forward to using my skills again in the back of an ambulance and, of course, fire fighting. If any of that comes along I can’t wait to get my hands dirty with that.”
“I can’t wait to be on a platoon and get close with everyone else in this department, because we’re in a bubble right now,” added Foster. “So it’s going to be nice to get out there and use the skills we’ve learned. It’s putting our best foot forward and making the community feel as comrfortable as they can be in our skills. So far we’ve had a great education and I think it’s going to continue to be an awesome education.”
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