The Glendale Fire Department provided a behind-the-scenes opportunity on Wednesday for the media to get an inside look at the ins and outs of firefighter training by challenging reporters to compete in various drills — and as a participant, I can confidently say, firefighting training is not for the weak.
They say someone can never understand another person without walking a mile in their shoes. In my case, this meant climbing a flight of stairs in a firefighter’s boots — which were two sizes too big — wearing a brush jacket and turnouts, all while wielding a 50-pound oxygen tank and lugging a 20-pound hose over the shoulder.
While real firefighters must suit up with their gear in about 90 seconds, it took me 10 minutes just to master the “Chicago Enclosure,” a phrase Capt. Gil Pedroza taught me, which involves properly hooking, buckling and velcroing the brush jacket.
Pedroza, who has been with the department since 2005, began with the training division in January and has experience teaching with the International Society of Fire Services Instructors where he teaches a variety of fire industry disciplines across different states throughout the country. He particularly enjoys developing curriculum through research and his own experience in the field.
In addition to learning how to put out a small fire (in a controlled setting) with a hose that sprays 30 gallons of water per minute and how to use thermal imaging technology to navigate a smoke-filled room, I learned just how elaborate fire training really is.
The department offers a comprehensive 16-week academy to train select firefighter recruits. The first few weeks are all about “mastering the basics” which involves doing drills and practicing with equipment, Pedroza told the News-Press. Over the course of the program, they also learn how to think like a firefighter and drive different types of fire trucks. Pedroza also emphasized their survival training, which takes place around week 11.
“If things go bad, how can we save ourselves? And then how can we save our peers? [This entails] survival and rapid intervention training, and then we go into wildland training, hazardous materials training, and search and rescue,” he said.
Training days typically run four days per week from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., occasionally with an extra weekday added for Emergency Medical Services training. After recruits complete this training, which includes lectures, quizzes and tests in addition to physical training, they enter a one-year probationary period before officially acting as firefighters.
Alex Dosh, who has two months left in his probationary period, told the News-Press he is usually the first one in and the last one out and is often subject to quizzing to ensure he retains important instruction and protocol.
Pedroza, who has worked with a few other departments before Glendale, emphasized the city’s dedication to supporting firefighters.
“The city of Glendale takes really good care of us as a fire department,” he said. “We have the best fire apparatus, and we have the best equipment. Our stations are put together really nicely, and we have a really good training facility.”
He also offered some insight into this year’s fire season, saying it’s been slower than the last few years, but that there is still hazard presently. Heavy rain, which Southern California has seen huge increases in the last year, causes grass growth and when that grass dries as the weather heats up, it becomes extremely flammable, Pedroza explained.
Safety tips to keep Glendale residents safe include creating a defensible space around properties, preparing homes with emergency evacuation plans and ensuring nothing is blocking exit ways, especially electric scooters in front of doorways. Another tip Pedroza emphasized was keeping bedroom doors closed at night, which can give residents an extra 20 minutes of safety before a home fire spreads to that space.
While being a firefighter requires intense physical strain, firefighters must also carry the weight of people’s lives and cope with the difficult situations with which they are faced. Pedroza says that talking to one another about their feelings and experiences greatly promotes mental health within the department.
“There’s almost no way to truly describe the camaraderie but basically, to try to put it in words, it’s like a family,” he said. “We’re expected to put our lives on the line for each other… it’s kind of like somebody who’s gone in the military and gone to war. You have witnessed a lot together, the good and the bad.”
First published in the September 2 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.