What does it take to be a firefighter? What sort of person runs into a building that is blazing and could potentially fall down on top of them?

What does it take to be a firefighter? What sort of person runs into a building that is blazing and could potentially fall down on top of them? Sleepy Eye Fire Chief Ron Zinniel talked about the training requirements, mind set and day to day preparations that go into battling the blaze.

A new firefighter goes through 148 hours of firefighter training courses, offered through South Central Technical College. Upon completion of the training hours and after passing the state certification test, the firefighter is certified through the state of Minnesota to be a firefighter.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of time,” Zinniel said. “That’s probably the number one thing.” When fighting a fire, there are many moving parts and several different vehicles that the fire department utilizes. That requires firefighters to be trained in a variety of skills to serve in multiples roles.

“Adaptability is a big deal. What you do on a run today is not what you’re going to be doing on a run tomorrow, if there is one,” said Zinniel. “Really, what it boils down to is you have to be willing to help people,” Zinniel said.

Zinniel is very excited about the advancements in technology behind the gear the fire department issues its team. Every 10 years, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requires that firefighter turnout gear (specialized jackets and pants) be replaced. “After 10 years it is deemed to be unsafe,” explained Zinniel.

The new turnout gear the city has purchased for the fire department has many cool features. Half of the sleeves and legs have a fabric system called IsoDri in them, which repels water off of the firefighter’s gear. “That’s very important for repelling heat and also for fatigue,” Zinniel said.

Another, perhaps little known fact, is that each set of turnout gear is fitted to the firefighter to which it is issued. Each individual is measured for their gear upon completing training. “Fitted gear increases mobility, and again, minimizes fatigue in an emergency situation,” said Zinniel.

In addition to the new turnout gear, the Sleepy Eye Fire Department recently had to upgrade its air tanks, or SCBA systems, to meet new NFPA regulations. The new tanks are classified as 45 minute tanks and have alarm systems built into them to alert the wearer when the air supply is down to 33 percent.

One of the newest and most helpful features is the Buddy Breather. The Buddy Breather is a secondary hose system that allows a fellow firefighter, or a victim in a fire, to share the firefighter’s air supply. “The new gear is lighter and you get more time out of it,” said Zinniel. “This new feature means that if someone is low on air they can share air and make it out of the building. All these changes are based on safety.”

In an effort to build esprit de corps, the Sleepy Eye Fire Department has a couple parties throughout the year where family members and former firefighters are invited. “The guys get along real well here,” Zinniel said. “They often go and do things together outside of work.”

In an interesting bit of information, Chief Zinniel explained the history of the Dalmatian dog as the mascot for Fire Departments around the country. Dalmatians used to run alongside horse-drawn wagons, and were eventually trained to run beside fire wagons, barking and warning bystanders to move out of the way. Once the wagons got to the fire, the Dalmatian would serve two purposes—guarding a firefighter’s gear and belongings, and comforting the horses who would be alarmed by the flames.

“There is a unique draw to fire, I think,” said Zinniel. “You spend the day fighting it, then in the evening you enjoy a nice camp fire. The difference is the ability to relax. On a fire call you are on edge and high energy; around the camp fire you’re just relaxed.”