Driving fire trucks: Does age equal experience?
Despite the fact that my first car, at age 16, was a 1977 Chevy Monte Carlo with a 351 big block and a 4-barrel carburetor (also not necessarily the best idea, but I survived), it's a long way from a passenger vehicle to heavy fire apparatus.
Fortunately, I've never had an accident driving fire apparatus, which I attribute to my solid initial drivers' education, a lot of "wheel-time" driving my Chevy to and from work in high school, and being forced to drive in an environment with variable weather and traffic conditions (Chicago, in my case).
Like so many things in life, our experiences (not to be confused with age) help us navigate each new challenge, and I can't help but think that, all other things being equal, having more "routine" driving experience (time behind the wheel) is a positive step toward making a safe and successful transition to fire apparatus.
It's also important that drivers have the emotional maturity and discipline to handle the responsibility for one of our most frequent, and highest-risk, tasks.
In my experience, those characteristics don't always track with increasing age, as witness the many young men and women who drive, pilot, or command military vehicles under extreme circumstances, with a high degree of safety and mission accomplishment.
Rather than focusing on age, or time on the job, it's probably more important to ensure fire departments provide rigorous firefighter training programs, safe standard operating procedures, routine "check rides" and annual refreshers, etc.
I also think we have a long way to go in the use of simulation for enhancing new and existing drivers' skills. For instance, even the most experienced commercial pilots spend many hours in a simulator practicing their craft, but similar units for the fire-rescue service can be expensive and difficult for most departments to access.
So what about joining a Fire Academy?
The average fire academy program takes about 12 to 14 weeks to complete a total of 600 hours of training. While most programs want all students to enter at the same time, some have staggered entrance options. Generally, you'll need to commit to anywhere from 40 to 48 hours weekly to undergo the program. There are also programs that are geared to working people. These offer night and weekend training that can be completed in a longer period of time.
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