Nine firefighter candidates for the Patterson Fire Department and West Stanislaus Fire Protection District circled a BMW that had been mangled in a previous crash, using a tool called the Jaws of Life, made to rip open twisted vehicles when people are pinned inside.
The machines use more than 30,000 pounds of torque to clamp down on, spread or cut away metal from doors and frames of vehicles made of forged steel.
Trainees took turns Saturday working with an instructor from the Hurst Corp., maker of the Jaws of Life. After removing a mangled door, they went to work near the roof of the bashed-up car.
Nick Jamieson, a Patterson fire engineer and basic fire academy training coordinator, said learning how to be a firefighter is a long and tedious process. He noted the challenges candidates were encountering Saturday as they struggled to harness the power of their tools.
“We’re letting them make mistakes,” he said over the metallic racket of the machinery. “You have to learn what doesn’t work so you’ll eventually know what does.”
Jamieson said the nine volunteers left in the class, which started in July with 20, are dedicated to their task.
“It takes quite a commitment,” Jamieson said. “They spend four hours every week training and two weekends a month.”
Though the nine are very welcome additions, the ranks are not full, Patterson Fire Chief Steve Hall said.
Those that left the basic academy, left for personal and time commitment issues and are always welcome to come back at a different time, he said.
Attrition during the annual fire academy is normal, Jamieson said, because candidates find out what kind of commitment it takes to become a volunteer firefighter. The academy takes eight to 10 months to complete depending on how the class progresses, he said.
Mike McLaughlin, an engineer and acting captain, said volunteers are needed not just in Patterson, but at all of the West Stanislaus Fire District stations, including Westley, Newman and Crows Landing.
The Patterson and West Stanislaus fire crews include 75 volunteer firefighters, with 35 volunteers in Patterson alone.
At this point, the candidates are about five months into their training. Soon, they will learn advanced first aid and be able to go out on medical calls. They will gradually gain responsibilities as their training continues.
Hall said the local fire departments welcome committed candidates.
“We’re always trying to get a good base of volunteers,” he said.
• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.