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Learning the ropes at fire school
"I love it when a plan comes together.That phrase, made popular by a character on the TV show The A-Team, seemed to become the motto for a group of firefighters last weekend during an intensive leadership and team building exercise at Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue's new facility on Day Road.The event, which was coordinated by a team of firefighter training consultants from Georgia, was just one of many training opportunities that the mostly-volunteer force of firefighters on Whidbey have each month.In fact, Central Whidbey Battalion Chief Stan Anderson said that local firefighters are among the best trained in the state. One of only five firefighter training academies in the state takes place on Whidbey Island each year. After passing the 150-hour academy, the firefighters gain an international certification as Firefighter One. Remarkably, it's the only academy in the state run by volunteers.Most of the new firefighting materials distributed by the state (Fire Marshall) started here, Anderson said. There's really an amazing amount of dedication here.Beyond the introductory academy, Anderson said the island's fire departments also help the firefighters and emergency medical technicians keep on top of their game, so to speak, by providing them with a variety of training opportunities each month.Each department has weekly training exercises, plus there's regular specialty training for things like EMTs, water rescue and high-angle rescue. Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue recently built a new training facility on Day Road that will be the only one of the island equipped to do live fire training.The recent training program, Anderson said, was aimed at up-and-coming leaders in the fire department. It was the second time in two years that the fire departments brought in consultants from ESE Training Associates to teach a class. The last time was a practical exercise on saving a downed firefighter. The more recent exercise was based on The Crucible, a grueling obstacle course the Marine Corps uses as a final exam for recruits. One of the ESE trainers, in fact, helped develop the course, which is supposed to teach a team to work together efficiently and allow leaders to rise to the top.They learned a lot about themselves, Anderson said. The course itself consists of seven different obstacles. At each obstacle, a team was given a certain amount of time to perform a task, but they weren't told how to do it. They were forced to work together to create a consensus on a plan and then accomplish it.One obstacle, for example, consisted of a series of lengths of fire hose attached to a wood structure at both ends, creating a very unstable swinging bridge. The team members had to get themselves and equipment to the other side without touching the ground or the wood.In another, the team had to get a tire over the top of a 19-foot pole and slide it to the ground without touching the pole.Somehow, they all passed with flying colors.If you stood there and watched, you could see when it stops being 'I' and starts becoming 'we,' Stanley said. "