VIRGINIA BEACH -- In the city of Virginia Beach there are 20 fire stations and 20 engine companies protecting half a million people. There are 27 recruits enrolled in the fire training academy right now. I made 28 -- if only for a day.
When the alarm sounds you have to be ready, so my first assignment was learning how to put on the pants, coat, boots, helmet and gloves.
Alex Wazlak has been a Beach firefighter for ten years and he was instructing me how to breath through the 4500 PSI tank that will give me 30 minutes inside a burning structure. Recruits spend a whole week on this evolution. I had twenty minutes to get ready to enter a smoking building.
Does Wazlak like teaching or fighting fires?
"That’s a good question. I really enjoy both. I like helping the new guys that are getting ready to come out there, it’s all new to them. I really enjoy teaching them. I also like fighting fires and helping the citizens out there,” said Wazlak.
With the thirty pound tank on my back, and breathing through the mask apparatus, in I crawled. The building was fully engulfed in smoke. I was told to use my right hand to feel along the wall, which helps you find your way back out.
Master Firefighter Hope Scott shared a real life experience saving a life this way -- four years ago Scott rescued a toddler from a deadly fire in Aragona.
"And I just kind of put my head down to make sure and I felt and it was a human. So I picked her up and took her out," said Scott.
For her heroics, she was awarded a medal of valor from Vice President Joe Biden.
My mission was only a drill but I pulled a survivor out in the form of a child-size dummy. The breathing tank worked. I was air-tight from any smoke. And the weight of it all made my short drill very tiring for this rookie.
"Many times you are helping somebody that is having the worst day of their life. And there's something rewarding about somebody's house being on fire and when you leave they thank you," said 26-year veteran firefighter Battalion Chief Jack Crandell.
The recruits in the academy still have a couple more weeks before they graduate. My day was over. I only hope the new ones coming in enjoy their careers as much as some of the vets here.
"Well you know I often say that when you find a job that you love, you never work a day in your life. So, in 26 years I haven't really worked but," Crandell said.
It was quite a day. I gained new respect for the men and women who fight fires, not just in Virginia Beach but all across Hampton Roads.