Trials by fire

Published 5:55 pm Saturday, April 25, 2009

Driving through Thorsby over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a group of 10 men running each afternoon, usually three miles in distance. Over a period of 10 weeks, these men could potentially put in well over 100 miles on their legs, but it is the conditioning and durability that may one day save a lot of lives.

The 10 men — cadets in this case — are part of the current Thorsby Fire rookie school set to end this week.

In the 10-week period, these future firefighters will have worked through more than 400 hours of instruction, learning from career firefighters what it takes to do the job.

“It is a grueling course,” Thorsby Fire Chief Lee Gunn said. “These guys go through instruction five days each week and eight hours each day; well, they wish it was eight hours.”

To earn the firefighter title, these men must complete the 10-week, 400-hour course approved by the State of Alabama and then pass two state tests, which will be held next week.

“Each of these guys will have gone through the state course and earn their Firefighter 1 and Firefighter II certification,” Gunn said.

The Thorsby training facility, where most of the training has been held, was just one of eight state-approved training facilities when constructed and today is still one of 14 in the state.

“We’re proud of the type of curriculum we’ve offered here and the classes that we’ve held here,” Gunn said, noting this is the first rookie class since 2004. “We would love to have this course more often if there is an interest.”

Cadets representing Thorsby, East Chilton, Collins Chapel, Warrior, Cahaba Valley, McCalla and Concord fire departments are attending the course, intended for career firefighters or those on the path to becoming a career firefighter.

The 400-hour course represents a significant difference when compared to the 160-hour course volunteer firefighters take.

“Each part of this course builds on each other,” Gunn said. “Not only do they learn fire patterns, fire characteristics, but also hazardous materials awareness and operation.

They go through 18 chapters in the curriculum and are tested just about every day.”

Thorsby’s department features 16 career firefighters in its 18-member department.

“Most of our guys are firefighters somewhere else and work here part-time on call,” Gunn said. “To be a paid firefighter, you must complete a course like this. If a city pays a firefighter without them going through a course, the city is fined $1,000 per day.”

The 10 cadets, who are entering their final week of training, must complete the two state tests later this week in order to receive their certification and take part in Friday’s graduation ceremonies to be held at 4 p.m. at Thorsby First Baptist Church.

The instructors for the school are: Chief Lee Gunn (Thorsby), Captain Clay Bentley (Thorsby), Lt. Phillip Porter (Thorsby), Lt. Adam Whatley (Thorsby), Chief David Driver (Clanton) and Asst. Chief Mark Thornton (Clanton.).

Three homes in Clanton will be used as practice burns for the cadets, beginning Monday. The houses will be burned, giving cadets real firefighting experience. The school, in conjunction with the Clanton Fire Department will burn one house each day through Wednesday.