Roberta B. – firefighter?


When she joined the Leadership Institute, a monthly, year-long series of classes, she knew it would be interesting and bring a deeper appreciation for how our community works. Roberta Behrens was one of 26 people involved in these classes. They were divided into groups of four or five, each with the responsibility for putting on programs about the community. There were groups representing areas like economic development, education, health and her assignment, safety and justice.
In these monthly meetings, they learned more about our hospital and schools, and when it came time for Roberta’s committee to be in charge, everyone was arrested. Let me explain.
First they began their meeting with ALICE training. I was unfamiliar with this. Roberta told me that it stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. It’s training that’s used in schools and other public places and based on the premise that information, authorization and proactive training are the keys to surviving an active shooter event, information which, of course, everyone hopes they will never need.
After that they went to the really fun stuff. All participants in the institute where arrested, fingerprinted, booked and put into cells. Then they proceeded with a mock criminal case, a great experience and one I’m sure they all hope to not repeat in reality.
While all these monthly experiences were interesting, maybe the highlight was her day spent with the firefighters of Union County. On one chilly and very rainy day, the group arrived at the Allen Township Fire Department. They had been told that weather would not be a factor, but oh it was. Everyone donned heavy fire equipment, which involved a jacket, boots, pants and coat, and under their hat they wore a hooded mask with the face cut out, which tucked into the coat. Everything was extremely heavy and very big on a small woman. Oh yes, all that stuff was not only heavy, but hot too.
Now they were ready for their first event as firefighters, but it was hard to move with all that equipment on. How do those guys do it?  The first event was to go up in the bucket attached to the fire truck – very, very high in the air. Roberta said you could see for miles, but it was raining, ugh! Apparently, when the hoses are up there squirting water, the bucket sways a bit, but there is a way to maneuver it to the proper place. Fortunately, the novice firefighters were hooked in and safe up there, high in the air.
Next, her group was told to stretch the fire hose away from the truck. Now at this point the job was manageable. It was just bulky. They signaled to a fireman to turn the water on. Roberta said: “We sprayed the hose and then again signaled to turn off the water. Oh, the hose is a lot heavier with the water in it! We emptied the hose as much as we could while we walked it back to the truck over our shoulders to remove remaining water.”
On to the “smoke house.” There they received training in saving someone from an active fire producing a lot of smoke. Each in the group donned a mask with a breather hose attached to an air canister and entered the house filled with smoke where Roberta couldn’t see a thing. She said: “I had one freak-out moment. It was hot. The mask was on my face, but then I turned more air on and things were better. Then I had to walk up two flights of steps, walking on the outsides of the steps, because we were told that the middle would burn faster. Our job was to look for bodies. We were crawling along, touching the wall and bumping into things, but then there was the body. I found it. I was really sweating now.”
“The job of a firefighter is so hard and I have such new appreciation for all of it,” Roberta emphasized. “All that safety equipment we were wearing, they need to get on in just two minutes and be ready to go.”
Their next rescue situation was auto extraction with the jaws of life. The equipment, which is run by a generator and hydraulics, can take the door off of the car and also cut the pillars in the front to roll the roof back. In less than 10 minutes this group of amateurs got a car open, ready  to save someone. I’ll bet it can be done much faster with people who are experienced. Roberta noted how hard it would be to do in the dark.
Then they were taught how to use “pillows” that are like blowup jacks that fit underneath the car to raise it and save someone trapped underneath.
Next, paramedics showed them around the emergency squad and gave them a tour of the Life Flight helicopter. She said, “The paramedics demonstrated the technique of inserting an IV into a bone, of course, not a human one, but a chicken bone for our demonstration purposes. I would never imagine an IV would go into a bone, but when there isn’t a healthy vein to use, this is the alternative. I was really impressed with the these highly trained men and women as well as the the firemen.”
There was also a 911 training class which prepares workers for helping people in stressful times. It takes months to be fully trained. Of course, they have to be so calm, cool, and knowledgable. Their responsibility is to quickly get the responders where they need to be.
Roberta said, “All in all the Leadership Institute was a great experience with a perfect ending – learning from the firefighters and rescue personnel of Union County.”
(Melanie Behrens –

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