Tony’s Voice: Our Day As Fire Fighters!

By Anthony Johnson-Civil Rights Urban Scholars

Today one of my childhood fantasies came true, my fellow Scholars and I had the opportunity to train as fire fighters for the day. Much to my dismay we arrived at city hall promptly at 7:30 am to get picked up by a big, red bus with the words Minneapolis Fire Department prominently displayed across the side.  With much needed coffee in hand we boarded the bus en route to the Emergency Operations Training Facility (EOTF). The facility is a manifestation of a letter written in 1985 which stressed the importance of an advanced training facility and a centralized command center where emergency services could coordinate their efforts. With the support of Keith Ellison, the facility was completed thirty years after it was conceptualized in the 1985 letter. What has resulted from the efforts of the fire department and key law makers is a high-tech command and training center in which our city’s civil servants work diligently to ensure the safety and well-being of everyday citizens.

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Upon arrival at the EOTF we were greeted by a few of the on-site training captains as well as the chief of the Minneapolis Fire department. For the first hour of our Fire Fighting Training adventure we got an overview of the fire department, from the person who hopefully knows it best, the chief, John Freutel! One particularly interesting topic of discussion was the chief’s viewpoint on the value of diversity in modern day firefighting. 32% of the fire department workforce is comprised of minorities and 15% of the workforce is comprised of females. This makes the Minneapolis Fire Department on of the most diverse fire departments in the entire county. In addition to the ethnic diversity, the amount of women who serve in our fire department is also something that is a unique aspect of our department and something that the chief finds extremely valuable. We may be the only fire department in the country that has a crew made up entirely of women! Gender diversity is important for our fire department because female victims may not feel as comfortable with a man giving them medical attention, thus female fighters are necessary to provide the optimal level of service to our customers; the citizens of Minneapolis.

After receiving an overview of what takes place at the EOTF and subsequently a tour of the facilities, we had the opportunity to go through some training exercises that staff utilizes to train the next generation of fire fighters. Our training started with gearing up. For a fire fighter proficiency in being able to get dressed quickly is a vital attribute which trainees are tested on; after all getting dressed and out the door quickly could mean the difference between life and death for the victims of a fire. Because of this fact every fire fighter has to be able to get geared up and out the door in a minute and a half which is no easy feat. That kind of training would really come in handy on the days that I’m running late for work…  

Once we were all geared up, which took us un-trained Urban Scholars much longer than a minute and half, we went out to one of the fire trucks to get a chance to spray the fire hoses. On TV and in movies spraying the fire hoses looks really easy. If you get a chance to ever spray one first-hand; however, you’ll quickly learn that maintaining control of the hose is a full body work-out which demands proper posture and a strong core to pivot the direction of the water.  When utilizing the hose the fire fighters outside are able to adjust the water pressure from the truck, which is done by the driver. The actual firefighters operating the hose then have control over how the water is applied to the fire; often times they will use mist from their hose to clear out smoke before adjusting the stream to give a concentrated blast of water to put out the fires!

To become well versed in the art of fire-fighting the trainees are exposed to a number of on-site demos which utilize natural gas to create controlled fires which the trainees must then put out.  While we were at the EOTF we got to see two of these demos in full blaze and they were spectacular! When it was time to conclude our day at the EOTF the fire captains were nice enough to ignite a train car that they had on site. We got a nice photo op in front of a burning train before heading out on the bus to get a tour of another fire station. All in all this event was one of my most fun days at work and I hope that the future Urban Scholars will have the opportunity to take this same tour next summer.  

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