Odessans were suiting up in firefighter gear Tuesday night at the drill field at the south end of Dixie Boulevard; but they’re not firefighters, they’re the newest class of the Citizens Fire Academy.
The Citizens Fire Academy is in the third week of a 10 week program, a series of courses taught by members of Odessa Fire Rescue to show interested members of the community what exactly it means to be a firefighter, including the ins-and-outs of the job, the equipment they use, and the risks they face every day.
“Any time there is anything, you name it, they call us,” fire investigator Juanita Billeiter, who helps teach the course, said. “They see us going down the road all the time, but might not know what all we do.”
The academy kicked off March 6 with a basic introduction and a live fire demonstration, and the next week covered emergency management and communications, but this is the first week the students got to see first-hand the kind of equipment and gear firefighters use on a daily basis.
Firefighters pulled up in one of OFR’s fire trucks, nicknamed “Work Horse” due to its frequent use at the Central Fire Station. Students saw up-close the amount of equipment loaded onto every truck, including fire hoses, ropes, saws, axes, traffic cones, foam and the various ladders, including the 105-foot ladder at the top of the fire truck. One firefighter scaled the entirety of the ladder for the students to show them just how high it could go, something every firefighter has to do during their training.
“If you’re a firefighter, you gotta do it,” Billeiter said.
They also saw one of OFR’s tankers, used to fight grass fires out in the county. It has hoses located at the front that can be controlled with joysticks from inside the vehicle, as well as a 3,000 gallon tank of water, which can be used to supply water to fire trucks as well.
“If we go somewhere they don’t have fire hydrants, this is our fire hydrant,” Firefighter Dustin Greenlee told the students.
Each of the academy members also got to try on bunker gear, what firefighters wear whenever they respond to a fire or a gas leak. Each bunker weighs around 60 to 70 pounds, including the suit, air tanks and air masks. Despite the weight and the amount of equipment, Greenlee told students each firefighter had to be able to put on the gear within 2 minutes.
“Yes, it is hot, it is heavy, and when it gets wet, it’s even heavier,” Greenlee told them.
Sam Garza is one of 18 students enrolled in the Citizens Fire Academy, and said he took the class because he’s thinking about being a firefighter himself.
“I want to see what it feels like to be a firefighter,” Garza said. “It’s been a good experience.”
The class will continue for seven more weeks, with more lessons in areas such as vehicle extrication, working the fire hose, fire investigation and fire extinguisher training.