(Part 3 of a series)
Once a year, members of McCandless' three volunteer fire companies, Highland, Peebles, and Ingomar, must demonstrate they have a working knowledge of the equipment, which could ultimately save their lives.
It's called an SCBA, which stands for self-contained breathing apparatus.
"That's ultimately the most important piece of equipment every firefighter wears," said McCandless Fire Marshal Dan Stack. "They have to be able to break it down, then put it back together and put it on, in zero visibility, in 60 seconds or less."
For firefighters who want to be certified for interior firefighting, the training is more elaborate and more intense.
Wearing more than 50 lbs. of gear and blindfolded, they must successfully crawl through an obstacle course, following a hose line, to simulate escape from a burning building. (see video). The course is set up inside the old Sun Books store, across from Trader Horn, in McCandless.
"We call it a confidence maze," said Stack. "In reality, you have zero visibility in a fire. When you are in an enclosed area, where the smoke has nowhere to go, you can't see a thing. The idea is to give these guys confidence that they can indeed do this and learn to depend on their training, and not panic."
Among the most challenging of the obstacles is an area of wires, designed to entangle the firefighter as he crawls on his hands and knees. (see video).
"We've had town council members, the town manager come down here and go through this," said Shawn O'Brien, Deputy Chief of the Highland Volunteer Fire Company.
"They can't believe what we do. And that's just in the amount of training," said Stack. "There are a lot of people who wouldn't be able to pass this." For not getting a paycheck to do all of this, it's pretty substantial."
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