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Viewpoint: A ladder truck with a view

Acrophobia affects roughly 10 percent of Americans, and twice as many women than men are living with it. More commonly referred as a fear of heights, acrophobia is not a trait found in many, if any, men and women that train to become firefighters. This brief lesson in semantics aside, week five of the Cottage Grove Public Safety Department’s Citizens Academy had us tightening our helmets and getting a bird’s eye view of the city from atop the fire department’s 75-foot ladder truck.

This session wasn’t as nerve rattling as last week’s (although my heart beat still races just thinking about the police K-9). But as a person who isn’t exactly fond of heights, it was another week of conquering fears.

To start, our academy was educated on the basics of the Cottage Grove Fire Department, which consists of more than 50 personnel, including both part-time and full-time men and women. Last year, the city’s entire Public Safety Department transitioned to a new model which turned away from a police/EMS-based system to a more firefighter/EMS-driven model. The shift in workflow has not only stabilized expenses it also gave the well-trained firefighters more work, which they say isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“We are adrenaline junkies,” the fire department’s newest hire, Nick Arrigoni said during the presentation last week.

In 2013, the fire department responded to around 3,000 calls, a number that is exponentially increasing as the city’s population continues to age. With the new model, the city now runs a 24/7, 365 days a year operation, which includes a duty crew comprised of firefighters who are cross-trained as paramedics. When a 911 call comes into a Cottage Grove station, Fire Chief Rick Redenius said the response times are some of the best in the metro. On average, the response time is about 5 minutes and 38 seconds. And with four stations spread throughout the city, Redenius said it’s not hard to be on-scene within a matter of minutes.

And when it’s a life or death situation, each passing second is precious.

That message was reiterated during our brief CPR refresher course. I was CPR-certified once back in high school when both breaths and compressions were equally as important. However, today’s CPR has transitioned to a hands-only model. If you can remember the beat to the Bee Gees’ 1977 hit “Stayin’ Alive,” you’re more likely to keep your victim alive as well.

Also part of the fire department’s training is learning how to maneuver large vehicles, including the Public Safety Department’s over-sized, high-tech special operations vehicle often used in high risk situations, ambulances and fire trucks.

One of the trucks comes equipped with a 75-foot ladder. Rising high into the sky, most of us took the opportunity to climb to the top, including myself. As a reminder, I’m not particularly fond of heights, but it isn’t a paralyzing fear, quite like Blitz. The ladder was positioned at an angle which equated to approximately four stories when I began my ascent. I was too busy watching the criss-crossing rungs beneath my feet to see just how far up I was going. I was, however, determined to make it to the top. With a trained firefighter as a follower, I talked, babbled rather, my way to the top in an effort to get the height factor off my brain. Once at the top, I turned around. It wasn’t as high as I was expecting it to be, but it was high enough. Not one to pass up a selfie about 50 feet off the ground, I snapped my photo, taking in a few laughs from below. The descent was a little more calculated. It was wobbly and ungraceful as I missed a rung, or two, on the way down.

Several more people went up after me, including one academy member who requested to climb to the top then have the ladder outstretched the full 75 feet while it rotated. No thanks. I climbed my 50 feet and called it a day.

Having the ability to not only run into a burning building, but to climb up several stories (in full fire gear, mind you) into the burning building is an admirable trait.

Now more than half-way through the academy, we’re getting closer to the final challenge: the Taser. Again, it isn’t required. But now that I’ve been bitten by the K-9 and climbed a ladder truck, I’m beginning to think about completing the trifecta and enduring the zap. I am not completely sold on the idea, but it would make for an interesting, albeit terrifying, final viewpoint. Stay tuned.

Reporter Emily Buss is participating in the eight-week Citizens Academy, hosted by the Cottage Grove Public Safety Department. Follow her reports weekly in the Bulletin.