Martinez firefighter Donna Blessing prepares for her training as Lt. David Dickenson gives her instructions.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
Donna Blessing climbed the ladder, came back down, climbed it again, carried some hoses before she climbed the ladder once again while carrying an ax - all while wearing near 70 extra pounds of turnout and breathing gear.
Blessing, a firefighter at Engine Co. 5 and one of four female combat firefighters in the Martinez Fire Department, was working to complete the Martinez Fire Department's Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus Obstacle Course to get ready for a mandatory physical examination next month.
"It really tells you whether you are in shape or not," said Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann, Training Officer.
The course is meant to determine The firefighter's physical and respiratory limitations, agility and mental anxiety level while working in the turnout gear and breathing apparatus, which combined can weigh between 35- and 70-pounds.
The more than 50 paid firefighters in the department's six stations are required to complete the Job Performance Requirements for the SCBA Obstacle Course. In English, they must complete 15 obstacles while wearing the self-contained breathing apparatus before running out of air. They are timed and scored for each task.
"The ladder was the hardest," Blessing said once she finished the course in 17 minutes.
Blood pressure and heart rate are recorded before and after the course. Many times the pressure is lower after the course because the firefighters are nervous and anxious before the test, Capt. Anthony Lovett said.
Rory Hanson, a firefighter at Engine Co. 6, received a perfect score of 150 on his test Tuesday. A 100 is passing. All the firefighters that have taken the test have passed, Kuhlmann said.
"I am not as bad as I thought," Hanson said about his physical condition.
Martinez Firefighter Rory Hanson practices a training test wearing his self-contained breathing apparatus and full gear. He has to climb the ladder carrying various tools and do a variety of tasks while being timed.
Photo by Annette M. Drowlette
Using the average 20-minute air supply, firefighters must climb ladders, roll, unroll and carry hoses, chop wood, crawl through a confined space by removing their air tank, but still breathing air and re-don the gear, crawl for 100 feet and spread a salvage cover.
"By the time they finish, they have been put through a heck of a workout," said Honey Shore, the department's public information officer.
Blessing received a score of 140 because she did everything correctly except carry a tool up the ladder properly. The ladder tasks took the most physical exertion, she said.
According to Kuhlmann, firefighters are encouraged not to race each other, but some do try to race the course and end up whipped before the end. The key is pacing yourself and cardiac health. Hanson and Blessing relied on their stamina and endurance to make it through.
Though the department has done this type of testing for years, this is the first time it is required.
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