(Cross Posted on Working Stiffs)

As some of you already know, I spent five years as an EMT on the local ambulance service. I have had fantasies of being a cop. But there is not enough money in the world to make me want to be a firefighter.

It’s not that I don’t admire them. Quite the opposite. I think guys who charge into a burning building to rescue people and pets are the biggest kinds of heroes.

When I was little, lightning struck a power pole outside our house and caused a small fire in our kitchen. I can still see the flames licking the kitchen wall. I can also still see my mom pouring water on the fire from a drinking glass. Water. On an electrical fire. Not good. I think the only thing that saved her was the fact it was a plastic glass. Firefighters arrived in minutes to finish the job of putting out the flames and checked to make sure there was no fire burning between walls. I was awestruck.

A few years later, arsonists torched our barn. Neighbors risked their lives, going inside to make sure my ponies weren’t in there (they weren’t). The wonderful firefighters battled long and hard, but were unable to save the barn or its contents. However, I remember them hosing down my dad who ran through the flames into an adjoining garage and drove my grandfather’s 1957 Chevy pickup truck out to safety.

I LOVE firefighters. I just don’t want to be one. I’m too much of a chicken. And too scared of being a charbroiled chicken. Besides, they work in horrendous conditions. Hot beyond words. They lug a ton of equipment around on their backs and must respond regardless of the weather to battle a heartless, uncaring opponent that kills in a multitude of ways.

Saturday, I worked as a proctor once again…this time for the civil service written exam for firefighters. A month ago, I had the opportunity to view what kinds of people wanted to be cops. This time, I saw first hand what kinds of people dream of being firefighters. As before, it was a diverse crowd. Men outnumbered women. And there were fewer nerdy types than had taken the police exam. There was at least one young gal who I really believe needs to rethink her chosen calling. I couldn’t see this cute little blonde weighed down by bunker gear, dragging a hose into a burning building in sub freezing temperatures.

But I could be wrong. Appearances, they say, can be deceiving.

One woman had to make an emergency trip to the restroom to barf. From nerves. She may want to rethink the whole Emergency Services thing, too.

The first part of the test involved studying a detailed drawing of a room for four minutes and memorizing every detail. We proctors then collected the drawings and the test takers had to answer questions about the room. I saw a lot of wide eyes when they learned they had to memorize that sketch. I’d have been sunk right there and then. My memory is on sticky notes all over my house. TBS. Teflon Brain Syndrome. Nothing sticks.

About a half hour or so into the written exam came a different kind of test. A fire emergency in the building. A recorded voice announced that we should quickly leave the building. Over and over and over again. Emergency lights flashed from the ceiling. “Do not use the elevators.”

It was great. If you’re going to be a firefighter, you’d better be able to perform under duress.

We proctors all turned to look to our supervisor, who was frantically making calls on his cell phone to find out what was going on. Was it real? Or was it Memorex?

One of the guys at my table decided to heed the recorded voice’s recommendation and got up to leave. I told him to sit down.

What kind of future firefighter runs from a potential fire?

A smart one, probably.

But we were on the ground level with exit doors on two sides of the room. If I’d smelled smoke, I’d have been leading the charge to jump ship. As it were, test security had to be considered. If we evacuated, most likely the test would have to be scrapped and rescheduled. At great expense. I mean, if a test taker needs to use the restroom, a proctor has to escort him while guarding the test booklet and answer sheet. How would we deal with over a thousand tests during an evacuation?

But no one wants to burn up. Todd, our fearless leader finally cued the mic and was stating that we had to leave the building when someone ran in and shouted that it was a false alarm.

Huge sigh.

The proctors led the test takers in some stretching and breathing practices (how convenient that I happen to teach that kind of stuff in my yoga classes!) and Todd tacked on an extra twenty minutes to the allotted test time to compensate for the “distraction.”

This was just the first step for these potential future heroes. If they pass the written exam, they will then have to face the physical tests.

Good luck to all who struggled through the cold winter morning, upset stomachs, fire alarms, and memory tests to shoot for their dreams. They’re already heroes in my book.

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