Special Report: Our Firefighters

Ryan Juntti
Updated: July 09, 2018 12:10 AM

Firefighters risk their lives for us every day, but a lot of people may not understand exactly what they do. A Fire Ops 101 program put on by the Duluth Firefighters Union, the Duluth Fire Department, and Lake Superior College teaches participants exactly what it's like to be a firefighter for a day, and Eyewitness News was among them.

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It used to be that firefighters would only respond to fires, but that's not the case anymore.

"Our roles have changed so much over the years from being just firefighters to adding in emergency medical response to specialized equipment and training for hazardous materials, and confined space, and rope rescue. Our roles, it's ever expanding to meet the needs of the community," said Duluth Firefighters Union President Pete Johnson.

So to demonstrate those roles five different stations were set up to teach us participants what a firefighter goes through on a day-to-day basis.

But before any firefighter is ready to face what lies ahead, first comes putting on the gear, which presents some challenges itself.

"Is that the right way?", said Ryan Juntti, an Eyewitness News reporter referring to the helmet.

But once we (participants) all had our gear on, then it was on to station one, an auto extrication. Firefighters must know how to get into a car to rescue a victim that is trapped. It is the most common rescue the fire department deals with

"We like to as much as possible remove the vehicle from around the patient, and not the patient from around the vehicle. That way we're not moving the patient around any more than we absolutely need to," said Duluth Firefighter Capt. Dan Lattner.

After learning how to stabilize a car, then it was time to start tearing it apart.

The first step was breaking the glass using a spring punch. 

"Wow that's weird," said Juntti after breaking the glass with the spring punch.

But the windshield had to be cut apart with a sort of hatchet.

After the glass was off, then it was time for the door using what amounted to a big, heavy mechanical pliers.

"You do gotta use your whole body too," said Juntti while using the mechanical pliers to take off the door.

But finally, it came off.

"Keep going huh? Holy... okay..." said Juntti after the door came off.  

With that mission accomplished, next would be a search and rescue looking for any victims inside a simulated burning building.

"Search and rescue here we go," said Juntti getting ready for the search and rescue mission.

Firefighters learn to always follow and stay in contact with a wall either to the left or to the right.

We (participants) would be doing a left-handed search, and it was pitch black, so the key was to stay low on our hands and knees. And while searching, we also had to stay in constant communication with our partner.

Eventually we found our simulated unresponsive victim, and had to pull the heavy form to safety.

"We saved him," said Juntti after pulling out the victim.

But only after a lot of hard work.

"Wow, that was tiring," said Juntti. "It was dark, you had to try to find your way through. At one point I went past the victim. So it really gives you perspective on what these guys go through every day," he said after getting done with the search and rescue mission.

With a rescue under our belt, next it was on to a live burn. A chair lit on fire in a bedroom, showing how quickly it can spread. 

Smoke started to fill the room, and suddenly it was very hot.

Eventually we put out the fire with a hose, and were able to safely exit the structure.

"That's crazy to see inside with all that fire you feel it. It's dark but you could see kind of the flames underneath there it was really cool to see," said Juntti with the firefighter's mask on after finishing the live burn.

Then it was on to the medical side of what firefighters experience in the field.

From practicing CPR on manikans to learning about using Narcan to fight opioid overdoses.

After that came the final station where we (participants) were able to go up in the bucket on one of the firetrucks.

"We're goin' up," said Juntti getting ready to go up in the bucket on one of the firetrucks.

We (participants) were also able to simulate what it is like to break a window of a house if need be. 

We first knocked out the plastic panes, and then had to break down the window frame.

"Reminds me of chopping wood," said Juntti while breaking down the window frame.

It capped off a long, exhausting day for amateurs. As for the pros, Johnson hopes the public understands a little more about what it's like to be a firefighter.

"It just gives them (participants) an idea of what we're actually doing and what services that we're providing, and that we're there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week ready to answer the call," said Johnson.

So the next time help is needed, we know it's right down the street.

35 firefighters from Duluth were volunteering at the event, which is held every couple years for Northland community and business leaders, elected public officials, and members of the media.


Ryan Juntti

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