At the South Carolina Fire Academy, we learn what it takes to become a firefighter. This 208-acre facility contains classrooms, drill towers, a fire station, equipment storage, and teacher offices. Future firefighters learn skills that they will use in real-life situations, such as search-and-rescue skills, firefighting skills, hand-held extinguisher usage, and even rappelling and rope usage. Staged live fire situations are set up using ordinary combustibles, gas, and flammable gases and liquids.
Firefighter candidates live at the station for six weeks. They eat, sleep, shower, and study on site 24 hours a day. They are ready to go out at a moment’s notice. Candidates learn to use personal protective equipment that protects their respiratory system and creates a thermal barrier for their skin. They go through the maze to learn trust, how to use their equipment, teamworking skills, and communication.
Candidates go through the smokehouse with a live fire. They learn how a fire burns. The phases of fire are incipient, ignition, growth, flashover, developed, and decay/smoldering.
In addition to firefighting skills, firefighter candidates are trained to respond to car accidents, including extrication; as first responder in medical emergencies; and in spilled flammable liquids procedures. The rescue of downed firefighters and civilians is a critical part of the job. Candidates learn to stay low and drag the victim away from danger.
Firefighters don their equipment including hoods, pants, and coats made of a flame-resistant fabric called Nomex. This equipment only helps resist fires; it is not fireproof. The equipment for one person can weigh from 40 to 50 pounds. Candidates for firefighting school need to be knowledgeable of science, math, hydraulics, and be physically fit. Both men and women can be firefighters if they are up for the challenge. They should be 16 or 18 years old and possess good team-working skills.