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An Academy's Daunting Challenge

An Academy's Daunting Challenge

Kristen Winters

Ladders. It was a word that made my heart race a little.

I am not afraid of heights. Nor, am I afraid of a challenge. But there was something about hanging off the side of a ladder taking out a window with an axe in -20 degree weather when the snow was blowing sideways that sent a chill down my spine. Literally and figuratively.

And did I mention the roof was frozen and had a thick layer of ice on it? For a card-holding klutz, this spelled disaster.

In the academy, we spent a lot of time on ladders. They are an important tool in firefighting. A means of entry and egress. A way to take out a window. So many uses.

We spent days, and I mean days, on ladders. An 8 hour lecture, and many hours of hands on learning. Unfortunately, many of these days were cold, snowy, stormy days.

The first part of the practical was proving you could handle the ladder. I can’t remember the length, 24 or 28 feet…for the sake of the story lets say 24 feet. The 24 foot ladder had 2 fly sections. It was metal, it was older, and it was heavy. 24 feet, doesn’t sound like much…but oh, it is.

I watched the instructor as he demonstrated getting the ladder off of the engine. He carried it on his shoulder to the tower. He planted the butt of the ladder into the ground, placed it against the wall of the tower, then raised the fly section. He turned to the class and informed us that if we could not do what he just did, we would not pass the academy.

I am not a weak person, but I often doubt my strength. I completely doubted my ability to do all of that. I am pretty strong for a woman. I can hold my own against an average guy. Hey, I can even hold my own in a fight…not that I would ever do that…but I doubted myself here. And self doubt has no place in the fire academy.

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