Blindfolded, gloved and weighed down with 60 pounds of air packs and bunker gear, nine recruits at the Edmond Fire Department crawled through a smoke-filled building searching for victims.

It’s the third week of their 23-week training course, and already they’re immersed in the grim reality of the firefighters’ world.

“I had no idea,” said Lindall Wood, 26, of Luther, who emerged from Thursday’s exercise sweaty, tired and a bit bloodied from a minor injury.

Wood said he was raised around firefighters and thought he knew what the job would be like, but the experience already has thrown a few curves.

“I had not even a clue what it entailed — and we’re just in training,” he said.

Nevertheless, the nine rookies are pursuing their goals with enthusiasm after completing four months of extensive physical and psychological testing and interviews.

“They’re pretty much ready by the time they get through the hiring process,” said Maj. Joe Elam, assistant training officer for the Edmond Fire Department.

The nine members of the current class consider themselves to be in a privileged spot; about 480 people applied for their positions.

During the 23 weeks, recruits will study emergency medical skills, hose training, forcible entry, vehicle extrication, hazardous materials and many other topics.

They also spend time at an area hospital, working with burn victims.

“That gives them an appreciation of what really happens in a fire,” Elam said.

Last week’s simulated events were intended to acquaint the recruits with the most difficult rescue and survival situations using self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA.

“SCBA is probably the most important training of the whole 23 weeks,” Elam said. “They have to get used to having the mask on, carrying the weight of the air pack, which is about 25 pounds, and make sure they have enough air to get them through.”

As for the blindfolds, Elam said visual limitations in smoky situations are part of the firefighters’ world.

“They have to learn to hear, and they have to learn to use their sense of touch,” he said.”

The recruits made their way through the multi-story building Thursday by following hose lines, learning to communicate with one another along the way. Air supplies sometimes ran short, and the recruits were confused at times by the tangle of hoses.

But they learned. Wrap-up sessions after each scenario allowed instructors to point out both good and bad decisions.

The day before had been even tougher. Dubbed “Hell Day” by instructors, Wednesday’s exercises pushed the recruits to the limits of physical, mental and emotional endurance.

“They find out where the edge is and go almost up to it,” Elam said. “It’s a tough week for them. They’ll be very proud of themselves after this week.”

All training days are rigorous, starting with a physical workout at 6:45 a.m. But the hardest part of the course is the sheer volume of information the recruits are expected to learn, Elam said.

About 40 percent of the 23-week training is classroom time, with 60 percent practical exercises.

The nine newest firefighters come from diverse backgrounds, and their average age is about 26.

“They’re energetic,” Elam said. “They’re already starting to bond pretty good. We’re starting to see leadership skills.”

Kyle Shelton, 23, of Midwest City said he’s enjoying his experience.

“I guess it fits my personality — it’s what I want to do,” he said. “I’m having a blast. It’s been a lot of fun and there’s a camaraderie. You feel like you’re on a team.”

Still, the rookies realize the importance of what they’re learning, and all are anticipating their future.

“Every firefighter I’ve ever talked to said they would never trade their job for the world,” said Micah Miles, 22, of Edmond. “I knew it had to be good if every one of them said that.” | 341-2121, ext. 117

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