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Cedar Rapids firefighter completes elite training, becomes official smoke diver
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids firefighter Jesse Lennox is the first Iowa firefighter to complete an elite firefighter training course called the “smoke diver” program — a weeklong exercise in Georgia that goes far beyond normal required training for firefighters.
Lennox, who has been a Cedar Rapids firefighter for eight years, participated in the training during Nov. 13 through Nov. 18. The training was something he researched and decided to do himself, not something that the Cedar Rapids Fire Department asked him to complete.
The Gazette recently spoke with Lennox about his experience preparing for and participating in the training.
Q: What is smoke diver training?
A: “The Georgia Smoke Diver program is the hardest firefighting program in the nation. It is a six-day course that is going to test you physically, test you mentally and put you in very realistic scenarios. And the unique thing that they do is they have a ton of instructors. They had more than 100 instructors there and there were less than 50 candidates. So because of that, because they have so many people there to keep an eye on you, they can put you in those very realistic scenarios, where we couldn't necessarily do that here in Cedar Rapids.
“There’s always a risk reward. So, we don't want to injure anybody in training, but yet, we're going to go to a call later today where there's going to be some sort of risk there and you need to find a way to mitigate that risk. The best way to find that way to mitigate that risk is to have explored that risky situation before in a training environment where there was perceived risk, but you genuinely weren't going to fall out the third story window, but you may have understood that if you've screwed up there could have been risk. So, what the Georgia smoke divers do and do very well is they've thought of all these things before you've even got to that step. So, you're in a smoky environment. You learned earlier that day how to bail out of a window. Now, you're in a smoky environment, the conditions have changed dramatically, you figure out that you need to bail out of this window. They've already set up a crash pad down there in case something really bad happens, but you don't know that. It's really smoky and all you know is there's a light over here and you need to crawl out of that window. You don't know the risks have already been taken care of. They've already been taken out of the equation, but you don't realize that and so you're stressed to the point that you think that you could get hurt, but they've already handled all those issues before you even get there.”
Q: What did preparation for the smoke diver training look like?
A: “We work out every day, but you don't have to work out every day in your gear. The gear is very hot. It's very cumbersome. It's very vision restrictive. It's hard to hear in it, because you’ve got the hood on. It's heavy. So, if you get used to working out in that gear all the time, you're just used to walking around with an extra 60 pounds. So, by doing a bunch of training in gear, it made it easier to perform all the fireground functions that are required for this training.”
Q: What did you take away from being able to work with the other smoke divers and the other trainees?
A: “There was a group of us that had a lot of similar characteristics and we tended to gravitate towards each other. They are not the complainers. The ones that found the best in the worst were able to be there at the end and they were able to get through the hard times. So, by working with the guys that were able to be optimists during non-desirable conditions, we just gravitated towards each other, and we tended to solve more complex problems together rather than think about all the things that are not going right.”
Q: What was the hardest part of the training for you?
A: “One of the days was called heat day, and like you would imagine it was a smoky hot environment and you searched for victims and downed firefighters in case you encountered those. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into this as far as training and gear, but the heat is the ultimate equalizer. When you get your body to a certain temperature, it is very hard to think clearly and not just want to get yourself out of the environment that you went into to look for victims. Calm down, look for the victims, think of the priorities that brought us in here and we'll exit as soon as we can. Being able to think through that was definitely the hardest part.”
Q: Was there any part of the training that you felt you were especially prepared for?
A: “There are two other gentlemen that are going to be going to smoke diver training here in February, and we trained together, and honestly a large group of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department also trained to get me ready to go down. I felt very comfortable in my gear because for at least six months prior I trained a lot in my gear. I had a different center of gravity, when you have that big heavy backpack hanging off your back. If you're not used to that, it's harder to have that weight you're carrying around, your center of gravity is off. And I found a different center of gravity and I just got used to carrying the weight and that became normal because of the months of preparation, here, prior to leaving.”
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