I've been a recreational runner most of my adult life. I've been a volunteer firefighter for the past three years.
I've done a few running events now in partial turnout gear — helmet, coat, pants and sometimes gloves. The most recent was last week's Courage and Valor 5K (3.2 miles) at FDIC.
The first time I ran in bunkers, I did it simply to see if I could. That first time taught me a few things: it is a good deal more difficult than imagined, the American-style firefighting helmet is poorly balanced for jogging, and people really take notice of someone running in turnout gear.
After the neck pain from that first run subsided, I was left with the nagging thought of what it meant to be running in turnouts. Just exactly what was I trying to say?
What does it mean?
I hope I was not just showing off, because that's not a side of myself I particularly like. I've seen firefighters run full marathons and ascend 100-story buildings via the stairwells in full turnout gear, SCBA and all — my little run was no great feat of athleticism.
Neither did I have a particular firefighter or fire charity that I was honoring or drawing attention to.
What it boiled down to is that firefighting is hard. It is hard physically, mentally and emotionally. Frankly, there's not a day I don't question whether or not I'm up to the task.
So I ran other races in turnouts with the hope that the civilian runners would stop thinking about how difficult their run was and think about how difficult it is to be a firefighter. By the encouragements that I heard along the way, I believe that many do get the point.
But there were few if any "civilian runners" at the FDIC run. So what was the point?
And honestly, I'm not sure I had anything to prove; I simply wanted to do it. But, like that first race I did learn a few things.
Lessons of a hot day
While this was not the longest distance I've done in bunkers, it was by far the hottest day — maybe mid 70s. That last mile was damned difficult.
I learned that I really needed those shouts of encouragement from those along the coarse. I really wanted to stop, walk for a while and unzip my coat to let some of the heat out. So, thank you to those who gave me that push I needed to not stop.
I also learned that I need to take my fitness more serious. I finished somewhere around 30 minutes, a little longer than you can get from a bottle of air.
But I wasn't busting my butt for 30 minutes. I wasn't dragging a heavy charged line around a maze of interior walls.
I was clipping along at an even pace with no danger, no adrenaline and less extra weight. And yet, that that last mile was damned difficult, difficult enough that I considered stopping for a rest.
Running in turnouts won't make the public vote for a fire district tax to keep a department fully staffed, but it is a nice public relations tool that builds some good will in the community.
For me, it also is a stark reminder of how more prepared I need to be for firefighting, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.