Take an inside look at Chicago firefighter training

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The Chicago Fire Department gave members of the media a chance to see the challenges they face. ABC7's John Garcia answered the call. (WLS)

It's a tough job to be a Chicago firefighter. This week, the department gave members of the media a chance to walk in their boots to see the challenges they face.

It was my biggest fear going in: the ladder, stretching five stories from the truck to the roof of the building. But there's no time to think about it.

"Get your coats, get dressed so we can go to work. Hurry up!" the trainer shouted.

This is firefighter training, so we don the heavy gear and head out. It's a dangerous job - and the ladder is part of it.

"If you make a mistake up there, you don't get a second time," the trainer said.

So, with eyes focused on the ladder - not the ground below - I climb the steps and hold tight to the railing. After a few minutes, I'm safely at the top. Good thing it's just a drill and the building's not on fire. For this training with members of the media, there will be no fire and no smoke. But we do go through the rest of the training to get an idea of the job firefighters do every day. That includes two and a half inch line up a flight of stairs, then opening it up and pouring water on the imaginary flames. It's not easy.

Everyone in the department has been through this training, including Commissioner Jose Santiago.

"Every firefighter is a firefighter no matter what you do - if you end up in an office, if you're in the fire prevention bureau, if you're in fire education - you're a firefighter first," Santiago said.

The trainers are all assigned to fire houses, so they deal with situations like this in real life. Like the jaws of life, which are used to help free victims from vehicles that have crashed.

"Our objective is to take the car away from the victim instead of taking the victim out of the car," a trainer said.

The jaws ply apart the car and then a powerful cutter helps clear the doors and other openings. There's also a tool to break the windows.

It's physical work. The gear is heavy. And firefighters have to be in good shape to get through it.

There's even an obstacle course to practice going through tight spots with gear on to get to a fire. Some of the firefighters on hand say it's fun. I say it's hard work.
I'm only too happy to reach the end with a new respect for firefighting.
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newschicago fire departmentfirefightersChicago - Downtown
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