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Firefighters fit for duty

By Ed Brock

At the end of the Candidates Physical Ability Test, Riverdale Firefighter Warren Long was certainly more aware of his physical capabilities.

"It was challenging," Long said. "I'm not going to lie, I'm tired."

But the point of the CPAT, along with the work-out equipment and more that the Riverdale department recently bought with a federal $103,000 Fire Act grant (plus a match of 10 percent), is not just to make the firefighters tired. It's to make sure they're fit for grueling duty of fighting fires.

"The one thing I want to look back on is that we had no line of duty deaths under my watch," Riverdale Fire Chief Billy Hayes said.

Hayes said that as of Oct. 31 across the country 38 firefighters died of heart attacks in the line of duty, totaling 44 percent of the line of duty deaths this year.

The test includes several events, starting with Long's greatest challenge, wearing a 50-pound vest with an extra 25-pound weight attached while climbing on a Stair Master machine for three minutes and 20 seconds. After that the 25-pound weight is removed while the vest stays on. The firefighter travels 85 feet (the distance between each challenge that is intended as a rest period) to the hose line advance.

In that test the firefighters have to drag a 50-foot length of dry hose to a certain point, drop to a knee and pull the rest of the hose to them. After that they have to carry two gas-powered handsaws 100 feet, lift and place them in position. Then it's on to the ladder lift where they must lift two ladders, one by pulling the ladder up using a halyard.

Next is the forcible entry test where they must strike with a force of 100 pounds per square inch on a target, followed by the next test of crawling on hands and knees through a 50-foot, obstacle filled maze. Then they have to drag a 185-pound mannequin for 50 feet and, finally, complete the ceiling breach simulator by using a "pipe pole" to push up or pull down against 20-pound weights.

New recruits must pass through the course in 10 minutes 20 seconds and while the veteran firefighters don't have a time limit to pass the test they are encouraged to aim for the same time.

Hayes finished the test in 10 minutes and 10 seconds.

"By far it's one of the toughest physical challenges I went through," Hayes said. "But none of my firefighters can come to me and say I don't know how hard it is."

Improving firefighters' physical fitness benefits not only the individual firefighter and their family but also the entire community, Hayes said.

"When the people dial 911 they get one choice, and that choice should be the best," Hayes said.

The Riverdale Fire Department has gone through some changes.

Fire Marshals John Fore and Dwayne Earnest have been made division chiefs while the department's Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Jody Weller has been made deputy chief.

There are several reasons behind the change, Riverdale Fire Chief Billy Hayes said.

"When I came in there was an imbalance. It took me three years to get the balance the way I thought was appropriate," Hayes said. "What it does is provide me with a foundation for growth."

Fore and Earnest's duties will remain much the same while Weller will retain his position as EMS coordinator and will assume much of the day to day responsibility for running the department so Hayes can concentrate on other duties. For example, personnel and shift issues will now fall to Weller.

"There's a lot to do," Weller said.