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.
I watched most of my peers go. I kept raging an inner battle with my psyche, wanting my confidence to win. No one else had a problem, there was no way I was going to be the first.
I walked over to the engine, and pulled off the ladder. Quite a feat, since I couldn’t feel my hands. I grunted as I put the ladder up on my shoulder. I trudged through the deep snow, got to the tower, and threw that ladder down like it was an ex-boyfriend. I raised the fly section as high as I needed to go, tied my halyard, and gave a triumphant shout. Ladder, zero. Kristen, one.
Moral of the story? I never should have doubted myself. I never would have earned my spot at the academy if the powers-that-be didn’t think I could do it. I tried to keep my self doubt at bay after that. Try to do the same. You will enjoy you probationary period, and learn more, if you do.