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FIREFIGHTER 101 by Adam Birkan

Editors Note The Ohio Fire Academy just outside of Columbus, Ohio, is a sprawling facility part of the Ohio Fire Marshalls headquarters. Every 6 months a group of people, varying in age, gender, and ethnicitiy, enroll in the Academy and train for almost four months to become firefighters. When I was younger my mother became a firfighter/EMT as a way to earn money towards her nurisng degree. I have always looked up to individuals who put themselevs in harms way for the benefit of others. This photo story is about the begininning of a journey. These individuals are actively endevouring to one day put themselves in harms way on a regular basis. It is because of that jounrey I choose to photograph them, to help me understand just a little bit of what it takes to go down the road they have chosen.

A cadet navigates their way through a hose maze.

Blood, sweat, and fire forge bonds that are not easily broken. In August, five men, and one woman, entered the Ohio Fire Academy (Columbus), fresh and dreamy eyed. After seven weeks, they will leave. Broken down, and then rebuilt as firefighters. For seven weeks they will undergo rigorous physical training and testing. Some will go on to become the men and woman that children look up to…some will decide otherwise. The day starts at 6 am, some sleep in the dorms, some commute. They meet in the gym, bleary eyed and sore from the day before. After their morning work out it is off to breakfast, a dim cafeteria, with far more tables than people to fill them with. When their stomachs are full, they slowly begin to move toward the classroom for role call. Five minutes late and the instructor will have them do pushups. They are briefed by the captain of the day, and once again are on their feet, moving towards the garage. “You may or may not like who you’re working with, but when you got a job to do, it doesn’t matter, it’s got to get done.” says Academy instructor Mark Manze. The sun is now peaking over the horizon, making the grease and grim on the garage floor shine. They begin to mop, washing away the dirt from the day before, preparing the grounds for the day ahead. When their cleaning is done, they assemble their gear and await the instructors return. Suddenly he is on them. “Go” he shouts, stopwatch in hand, “they have to be ready at a moments notice,” he says. They scramble about, pants, boots, helmets, air tank, mask, gloves, check. Done. One minute and thirty seconds is the average time. They undress and stand at attention.

Cadet Kyle Ratcliff rests after a day of training at the Ohio Fire Academy

The sun is now heating the grounds outside of the garage, waiting for them to venture outside for their next training regiment of the day. However, not yet. “Start spinning,” the instructor says, “keep going.” Dizzy and stumbling about they hear him shout go once more. They are slower this time, disorientated from spinning and red in the face from the previous drills. The instructor tells them to meet back In the classroom at 0900 hours to go over the agenda for the day. They put their gear away, slowly and tenderly. As they exit the garage, they squint their eyes, not yet having seen the sun above the horizon. Today they get to experience the ladder maze for the first time. An arduous obstacle course, that takes them up and down eight ladders, some 16 feet tall, some 30 feet tall. They go through the course nine times. If they forget to test the ground before they step off each ladder, the instructors make them do the entire course again. If they forget to call out each stage of their ascent and descent, the instructors will make them do the course again. The day wears on. As they finish the last of their rounds it is only noon. Seven weeks, the ladder maze is week five, soon they will be fighting fires in the “burn building.” Soon they will begin to feel the heat that they will have to embrace for the rest of their careers. As the weeks go by the bond within the group grows stronger. In the beginning they were strangers, they shared no common bonds, they shared no common experiences. “It’s about teamwork,” says instructor Manz, “Together everyone achieves more. Teamwork is paramount to fire service.”

Cadet Collin Cruikshank directs a firetruck while it parks in the Ohio fire Academy garage.

Cadets participate in a ladder drill exercise called “ladder maze,” at the academies $1.8 million dollar “burn building”

Five weeks have passed, they have sweated together, they have dinned together, they have been yelled at together, and they have suffered together. As their bonds grow the days become shorter and the tasks become easier. Teamwork is the name of the game. They begin to rely on one another, look out for one another. They begin to show signs of that legendary bond that firefighters are known for. That bond that you see in movies, or read about in books, the bond that, should they become firefighters, will keep them alive. The day comes to an end, they are tired but happy, sore but relieved, dreading the days to come but excited about the opportunites those challenges will create. For now they are cadets, but soon…soon they will be firefighters, with bonds made of sweat and blood, and forged in the flame.

Cadets prepare for training at the Ohio Fire Academys Burn Building

Two cadets rest after dragging a dummy out of a building during training

Aaron Scheeler places his hand on fellow classmate Jessica Dryden during instruction.

From Left: Aaron Scheeler, Kyle Ratcliff, and Travis Traxler walk back to the garage after going through heavy tool training.

The Valor Awards and The Honor Roll at the Ohio Fire Marshalls building in Columbus, Ohio

Clockwise from top: Kyle Ratcliff, Aaron Scheeler, Cameron Weiss, Travis Traxler, pose for portraits

Firefighters Prayer When I am called to duty, god Whenever flames may rage Give me strength to save a life Whatever be its age. Let me embrace a little child Before it is too late Or save and elder person from The horror of that fate. Enable me to be alert And hear the weakest shout, And quickly and efficiently To put the fire out. I want to fill my calling To give the best in me To guard my friend and neighbor And protect their property And, if, according to your will, I have to lose my life, Please bless, with your protecting hand, My family and my wife.

Clockwise from top: Kyle Ratcliff, Cameron Weiss, Collin Cruikshank, Aaron Scheeler, pledge allegiance to the flag during their graduation ceremony.

A mural at the Ohio Fire Marshalls building in Columbus, Ohio.

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