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Fire Science/Fire-fighting


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What to Expect

Whether you attend a fire academy or go the college route, you'll find that hands-on training is a big part of any firefighting program.

A typical day at college or university involves lectures, labs and homework (at least a couple hours each day.) You'll typically do hands-on firefighting in addition to all your other courses -- generally on weekends.

In programs offered by fire academies, the hands-on training is more intense.

Pat Barker took an intensive 12-week course at an emergency services college. She recalls every day beginning just before 7 a.m. with an hour-long fitness class taught by an instructor students dubbed "the devil." The day would continue with classroom lectures and practical exercises, such as learning how to raise ladders.

"A really neat thing we did was we had to carry a buddy down a 35-foot extension ladder," explains Barker. "If somebody had told me I'd have to do this I would have said, 'I can't do that.' This guy I carried was 230 pounds and with his turnout gear he was probably 260."

Students also receive training in how to deal with hazardous materials, load a truck, hook up a hose to a hydrant and navigate a burning building.

"They've got this $4-million burn building that's four storeys. It's a big cement building," says Barker.

"They put these wooden pallets out and set them on fire and you extinguish them. I remember the first experience I had. You're on your hands and knees and you go in and you're told the fire is straight ahead. I was looking for it and I couldn't see a thing."

How to Prepare

Barker says her lack of background in first aid or emergency services made an already tough course that much harder. She'd advise anyone considering a similar program to get some experience ahead of time.

High school shop classes will come in handy, Barker adds.

"Learn about motors. Mechanical aptitude is really important. If you're at a car accident and you have to take the lines off the battery, then you can just do it that much faster."

A good part of the focus in college or university training is on engineering. Jared Moravec took the program at Oklahoma State University. He says taking as many math classes as possible will give you a good head start.

"Chemistry and physics are also helpful," he says. "Any advanced placement or other college-level classes offered should also be taken."


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