Citizens Academy students Fire Fighting

After hours in the classroom, Citizens Academy students “geared up,” wearing professional firefighter equipment.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a firefighter?

Fifteen Peoria residents found out, the hard way.

The Peoria Fire-Medical Department holds an annual Citizens Academy during  October. This year’s class started on Oct. 7, and met for five different nights, with “graduation” on Oct. 28.

This was an “Introduction to Emergency Response” event, designed to give residents a good taste of what the firefighter-paramedics do.

Each night featured different activities, said Michael Selmer.  As the public information officer for Peoria Fire-Medical, Selmer facilitated the academy.

The first night, the class met Peoria Vice Mayor Bridget Binsbacher, Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz, Deputy Chief Stacy Irvine, Deputy Chief Gary Bernard and Battalion Chief Tony Neely.

“Vice Mayor Binsbacher spoke to the citizens about the city and her support of our firefighters. DC Irvine taught them about tactics and the operations of how our trucks respond to calls etc. Chief Ruiz spoke at length about fire behavior and the dangers associated with it,” said Selmer.

Night two was at Fire Station 191 where the crews had stations set up for hazardous material, technical rescue, engine company functions and ladder company functions. 

“At the engine station, the citizens got to flow water from an extended hand line,” Selmer said.

“On the ladder station, the citizens got to go up 90 feet in the air and see what it looks like from the top of the ladder in a defensive position. The citizens also learned about fire behavior by a burning doll-house demonstration from Battalion Chief Brian Leathers.”

 Then came a “full hose lay evolution,” connecting a hose to the ladder and flowing 1,000 gallons a minute.

It was, Selmer said, “a  demonstration of how quickly our crews can get into place and deployed in two minutes.”

On the third night, academy students listened to real-time 911 calls, to understand how that information gets conveyed to the firefighters. “The night also included a tour of our support services where all of our fleet is maintained and how they stay in top shape and ready for the road,” said Selmer.

The fourth night was a “live burn” event.

“Before a citizen can participate in this event, they had to schedule an appointment to get fit tested with a mask and sized for turnout gear,” Selmer said.

“After they are fitted, they had to pass an agility test that included climbing a flight of stairs, reaching the top and getting down on their hands and knees, then back on their feet and descend to the bottom without any issue or assistance.”

All of that was done while wearing full gear and an air pack.

Fifteen students passed the test and participated in the live burn exercise, alongside firefighters. 

“In the burning tower, they stretched a charged hose line down a hallway, searched rooms and experienced a flashover on the ceiling where they opened the bail to extinguish the fire,” Selmer said.

“Incredible experience. No other department in the Valley goes to these lengths for their citizen academies.”

The fifth night covered emergency medical services (EMS) and graduation.

Deputy Chief Jim Bratcher discussed EMS response and “paramedicine,” as well as procedures Peoria Fire-Medical performs in a prehospital setting. The students then had the chance to use equipment used by Peoria to respond to medical emergencies.

“The night ended with the group being led into the building by Firefighter Teresa Black playing the bagpipes as they marched in,” said Selmer.

Councilman Jon Edwards and Ruiz handed each of the participants a certificate for graduation.

They went through fire to get those certificates.