COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho – The Coeur d’Alene Fire Department (CDAFD) has given a behind-the-scenes look at training exercises they go through to be ready for whatever gets thrown their way at a moment’s notice.
So far this year, CDAFD firefighters have responded to more than 8100 incidents, slightly down from this time in 2022. The department responded to nearly 10,000 incidents in all of last year.
Training is a huge part of day-to-day operations for CDAFD. Last year, the department logged 12,000 training hours, which averages to about 170 training hours per firefighter.
NonStop Local’s Guy Tannenbaum takes us through “Fire Ops 101” in his personal account below:
“When you walk in here, you’re not going to do the same thing every day,” CDAFD Chief Thomas Greif told me. “Every call is different.”
That’s something I saw for myself throughout my day with the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department, going through their “Fire Ops 101” course–which is kind of like a slimmed-down version of their fire academy for local reporters and public officials–in order to get a firsthand look at what their firefighters experience on the job every day.
“We work with the media day in and day out when you guys respond to our calls, so we want you to be familiar with the essential services that we provide the community, especially with the low frequency-high risk stuff,” Chief Greif said.
What Greif is referring to are incidents that don’t happen very often, but are extremely time-sensitive and often life-threatening, like house fires or major car crashes.
“Those are scenarios when we need to be at our best within a moment’s notice a lot of times,” said CDAFD Firefighter/Paramedic Morgan Zajicek, who was my shadow for the day.
It was time to suit up–putting on special pants, gloves, boots, gloves, a helmet and an oxygen tank. Firefighters have to be able to put everything on in a minute and a half or less, so they can get on the road to a call as fast as possible.
The first exercise of the day was entering a simulated burning building and searching for victims.
When I say this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I’m not kidding.
The video from a GoPro camera on my helmet shows what we were dealing with inside: I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face in there, and still had to crawl the whole way–including up a flight of stairs–then only use my sense of touch–while wearing thick gloves, by the way–to search through beds and find a dummy.
“Just that disoriented feeling, where you can’t see things, feel things, you know that’s a challenge,” Chief Greif said. “Then put that in a real life incident, you’ll have a better understanding of what the men and women have to go through when they have to do a live rescue in a fire.”
Firefighters have to do all of that while wearing 60-plus pounds of gear, which somehow feels even heavier than it sounds.
“Just the weight of that alone makes the experience and the training evolutions that you’re going through that much more difficult,” Greif said.
We then have to make our way out of the building the same way we came in, with the victim we found, in ideally less than 90 seconds.
I was in there for close to seven minutes, and with how disoriented I was, it felt a lot longer than that.
Next came working with the powerful fire hoses, bringing them into the building and practicing shooting water at a target.
Then it was onto a simulated serious car crash, where we had to use the “jaws of life” to cut open a car–which were extremely heavy, to say the least.
Finally, the last exercise of the day: going on a mock “code,” which firefighters call a cardiac arrest.
“We’re seeing that over 80% of our call volume is EMS in nature–whether it be medical calls, car wrecks, cardiac arrests, of course, those time-sensitive emergencies,” Chief Greif said. “It’s important for you to see how many personnel it takes to run a cardiac arrest incident.”
It was way more than I thought it’d be, and honestly, it can be pretty jarring when you’re going through it.
“It takes a lot of people to keep that continuous care to take someone from a basement environment, for example, to an ambulance, and from the ambulance to the ER,” Chief Greif said.
After all of our exercises wrapped up, I–of course–had to get my performance review.
“I think you did great,” Zajicek said. “I’m still new to this myself and it takes a while to get comfortable with some of those scenarios. It’s just a different feel, so I think you did great for the first time. It just would take experience and those reps to be more comfortable.”
I think she was being generous–I’m more than happy to leave all of this to the highly trained professionals.
To say the whole experience was an enlightening one is an understatement, but more than anything, I was taken by the bond between the firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day to help save ours.
“You get really close with those few individuals, and they become like family,” Zajicek said.
“It’s the family, the camaraderie, the teamwork,” Chief Greif said. “You live together for 48 hours, you train together, you go through ups and downs in each other’s lives, you support one another, so that’s what makes this profession more special and different than any other profession.”