It’s amazing what can be learned when you put your feet in another person’s shoes. Particularly if those shoes are thick-soled, rubber black boots. Just trying to shove your feet down into them requires a good deal of stamina. Once your feet fit in, however, where those shoes can take you will astound and amaze.
Early Saturday morning about 20 people ranging from laboratory employees and County Councilors to Los Alamos Public School administrators and members of the local media all got the opportunity to strap on a pair of boots and receive a glimpse of what life is like for a Los Alamos firefighter.
The Los Alamos Fire Department held its first citizen Firefighter for a Day event at the training facility at Station 2 on DP Road.
Fire Chief Troy Hughes said the idea was inspired by a similar program held by the Albuquerque fire department. The hope is to continue the program and invite more community members to walk in firefighters’ shoes.
A large group of LAFD personnel including administrators, captains and others volunteered their time to share their knowledge, equipment and gear with participants. Citizens were divided into groups and guided through six stations: EMS code, hazmat, vehicle extrication, high angle rescue, smoke and rescue and wildland.
Participants crawled around on hands and knees in a dark room hazy with thick faux smoke and slick with water, trying to locate and drag out dummies from the “burning” building. They were encased in giant neon yellow hazmat suits, resembling, as one firefighter put it, SpongeBob SquarePants. They learned just how much weight a firefighter hauls while battling wildfires. Not to mention that beef jerky and peanut butter and jelly frozen snack sandwiches are great provisions.
As one of the participants, I learned firefighting is really tough. Trying to wriggle into and out of the gear alone is hard work. Even more than that, you must be alert, think quick, work as a team.
Just like everyone else, I always respected firefighters but shoving on and walking around in those boots deepened that admiration and respect. I discovered the scale of what is required of them and what they accomplish is far more than anything I ever imagined.
By the end of the program, when I shucked the boots off for good, I felt awestruck by what had been revealed and a little sentimental. It is a true honor when someone shares a piece of their work with you and invites you to walk a little while in their shoes.