Into the fire

Published 8:15 pm Monday, March 6, 2017

By Melanie Ruberti

LaGRANGE – Bright, orange flames shot out of a two-story steel structure on Fort Drive on Friday afternoon.

The hot, burning embers and thick, black smoke did not deter seven ‘rookie’ firefighters, nor their instructors as they hustled inside the burning building to put out the blaze. In some cases, the class just watched it burn.

Daniel Fogg has only been a firefighter with the LaGrange Fire Department for six months. Friday’s controlled burn was his first ‘proper’ introduction into battling an active blaze.

“We’re exposed to everything,” he stated. “We’ll get to see fires burn at a couple different venues. This is the intro in fire ‘behavior.’”

It was the last lesson Fogg and his fellow rookies learned as they wrapped up their first official week of the LaGrange Fire Department’s Rookie School.

“You name it, they’ll learn it. Personal protection equipment, all aspects of firefighting, the ‘behavior’ of a fire, how to properly extinguish it, rescues, working in a confined space, vehicle extrication, handling HazMat situations, repelling and a live LP (Liquefied Petroleum) burn,” said LFD Deputy Chief John Brant.

The rookie school is mandatory for all firefighters employed with the LaGrange Fire Department – even if a person previously worked for another agency, said Brant.

With the exception of Fogg, the rest of the ‘rookie’ fire fighters are not rookies at all. Fire fighters with differing degrees of experience and from other local departments started the nine-week program on Monday.

Michette Moon has worked for the LaGrange Fire Department for more than three years.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “You have to adapt and learn very quickly.”

“It’s fun and it’s a challenge,” said Fogg. “This is just our fifth day, but we’ve progressed significantly. We’re starting to see physical and mental changes already.”

The physical portion of rookie school starts bright and early each day with a strict, routine regimen of exercises, running and negotiating a ‘specially designed’ obstacle course.

The course, which includes carrying weighted ropes up and down two flights of stairs, dragging “victims” out of a “burning” building and hoisting hoses up into an attic, must all be completed while the firefighters are in full turn out gear.

“PT is the most challenging thing so far … every day, every morning,” said Rusty Brown, a firefighter with the Troup County Fire Department. “But we’re all getting used to it and the physical training is getting better.”

After physical training, the rookies have a few hours of classroom instruction before they head into the field to practice first-hand the lessons just learned, said LFD Lt. Rob Vael.

Vael organized and is one of the lead instructors for the 32nd LFD Rookie School.

“It has gone as well as we expected,” he said. “It might have been a shock to the rookies … the regimented new structure … it’s all very time dependent. But I’ve seen the progression of the rookies from Day 1 to Day 5 … team work is a big aspect of firefighting. They (rookies) started as individuals and now they’re coming together as a team.”

“We knew they’re (rookies) well-trained, they know how we operate. We want to build them into great firefighters and let them learn what their minds and bodies are capable of,” said Brant.

For Moon and Brown, firefighting is in their blood.

Moon’s father and uncle were both firefighters; Brown’s great-grandfather was the chief of the now-former city of Hogansville Fire Department. His godmother has worked for both the LaGrange Fire Department and the Troup County Fire Department, he said.

Brown and Moon both hope to follow in their family’s footsteps – and achieve their own goals.

“I want to see what my limit is and then overcome it,” said Brown. “But I also want to make a difference in the community around me.”

“I’m looking forward to receiving my (firefighting) badge,” Moon said with a smile. “But I was also voted as ‘Captain’ of the rookie team, so I want to learn how to be a good leader.”

Fogg has had a taste of life as a first responder. He was formerly an EMT. But the “official” rookie firefighter is eager to see where his new career will take him.

“I want to work in a place where I can contribute to society,” Fogg stated. “With firefighting, you can pick and choose a direction to go … whether you focus more on rescue, medical or administrative positions. You will never become stagnant in it (firefighting), which I like.”

The rookies have weekends off. Next week the group will learn more about fighting different types of fires, plus search and rescue techniques and working in confined spaces.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.