Girl on Fire: Appreciating what firefighters do

[As seen in Creston News Advertiser, October 3, 2013]

I climbed the ladder and stepped onto a roof of wooden shingles and moss. The slant made it hard to climb, as did the uncertainty of whether the wood would give. I followed firefighters Lee Freeman and Jake Winkler up near the peak, and Jake and I got to work.

Lee gave me the choice between a chainsaw or K12 power saw. I chose the K12, but after it kept dying, I picked up the chainsaw.

Tuesday was the first time I’d ever used a chainsaw. My shoulders tensed with the weight of the saw as I leaned over and made five cuts into the roof of the beach house at Green Valley Lake. In what felt like hours, Lee and Jake talked me through cutting the hole for vertical ventilation.

Jake pushed the wood through the roof, a loud crack sounding up from the cement below, and we made our way over the soft shingles and chunky green moss to the ladder. When I hit land, I took off my helmet, air tank, gloves and jacket, and breathed.

Creston Fire Department organized the hands-on training Tuesday at the lake. We practiced using the dump tank as a water source and cutting holes in the roof for vertical ventilation, then burned down the beach house north of the glassy water.

I always knew just how physically and mentally exhausting firefighting was. It started with my, admittedly, limited knowledge stemming from movies and TV shows. Then, I learned more about what firefighters really do as I got older and read the news.

After a few months in Creston, and seeing firsthand what goes into a rescue or putting out a fire, the importance of a fire department hit me. But, there is so much more to a department than spouting water onto a fire.

Every training session, I’m immersed deeper into the world that is firefighting. The camaraderie, adrenaline and impact that comes with saving lives and property, that is firefighting.

Creston firefighters, while not the only important department in southwest Iowa, have a unique bond with each other because they spend more time with each other. Being the only paid department in the area, you learn a lot when you spend 12 hours or more with other firefighters. You learn to put up with jokes and get around any dislikes because what firefighters do requires that of you.

Firefighters understand what other firefighters go through to improve, too. I appreciate having such an understanding group of men and women in Creston to learn from and lean on. Heaving a piece of sharp equipment up a ladder to cut a five- by five-foot hole in a roof, while fire rages below, requires mental and physical strength that few people have, and to say I’m surrounded by so many, is a thing of pride for me.

Needless to say, the Green Valley beach house training and burn was a success, all thanks to the many firefighters dedicated to learning more about how to save life and property in Creston.

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