Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Climbing Everest, I Learned at Firefighter Camp

Hello to All,

After a full and intense week, it’s good to sit a spell and reflect on all the rich lessons I received this week. In the course of my climbing training, I’ve opted to pursue “Ring of Fire” challenges as I’ve called them; tasks and experiences that require me climbing outside my comfort zone into the heat of an uncomfortable place. I believe it’s critical for me to practice being uncomfortable since life at high altitude is so frequently filled with discomfort.

This week I stepped directed into some rings of fire, ones that were actually burning, in fact. Thanks to the Women Resource Development Committee and the Marine Institute, I had the great privilege of attending Camp Glow. Camp Glow (Group Learning for Outgoing Women http://www.mi.mun.ca/campglow/ ) is a five-day firefighting camp for women that introduces many aspects of firefighting. Our group ranged in age from 19-50 and was lead by Krista Parsons Butler and Mary Clarke.

We began the week learning to don bunker gear and finished it fighting a twenty-foot wall of flames. Along the way, each of us faced intense moments of fear invoked for some by being lowered over a 40 foot wall, searching a dark and smoke-filled building, or crawling through ever diminishing tunnels. Each woman had her own way of navigating the maze of emotions and thoughts that arose along the way. Some got quiet. Some cracked jokes. Some cheered loudly and others charged boldly forward.

My younger brother, Mike, is a career firefighter with the Edmonton Fire and Rescue Services. I have always harboured a secret dream to follow his footsteps into the firefighting profession. This week I got to spend five days in his boots and now have even more respect and appreciation of the work he does. Mike is on the high angle rescue team and it’s very evident that we have expressed our shared love of high places in different ways but I was glad to spend the week thinking so fondly of my younger bro. Seen together, we are often asked if we are twins. After this week, I would answer…twins separated at birth by six years. Thanks Mike for being my inspiration this week.

This morning, as I completed my long run, I reflected on the week and thought I might turn to Robert Fulghum (All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten) for the format of how I might share the lessons of the week.

Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Climbing Everest, I Learned at Firefighter Camp.

All I really need to know about how to climb Everest and what to do and how to be I learned at Camp Glow. Wisdom was not at the top of the mountain, but there in the orange glow of team spirit and firelight.
These are the things I learned at fire school that I will take to the mountain:
• Check and recheck your gear because your life depends on it. Shakedown is key–make sure all the pieces work together.
• Practice doesn’t make perfect, instead it makes us faster and more confident. Time can be gained through fitness but also through putting all the pieces together more efficiently.
• Different fires are fought in different ways. Always use the right extinguisher and technique for the fire you are fighting. Using the wrong one can feed the fire and make the job of putting out much more difficult.
• Keep contact with the wall and your buddy–they are your safety system for getting out when you can’t see a thing.
• Stay low–fire and gases will go high. Seek respite in safe pockets.
• Fire and smoke cannot penetrate a water wall. Use one to protect yourself, your teammates, and your retreat.
• Always know and plan the ways you can get out of a fire and get out before it is too late.
• Don’t over-think it. Use the skills you’ve been taught to manage the intense feelings that arise when heading into a burning building.
• Our minds are our greatest tools and our greatest enemies. When donning bunker gear, just ignore how hot it is–just get the job done without paying attention to how miserable you are.
• Together we can achieve things we cannot on our own. Teammates are deep sources for inspiration, protection, perspiration, and shared joys and loses. Don’t ever enter a burning building without a buddy and a team behind you.

Everything I need to know for Everest is in there somewhere: The Golden Rule and teamwork and basic guidelines for coming home alive. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated climbing terms and it holds true and clear and firm. And it is still true, no matter how old we are, when we go out on a climb, it is best to rope up and stick together.

Thanks to all the sponsors of Camp Glow, the program volunteers, my teammates, and especially to the skilled instructors who guided us along the terrain of firefighting. I am sure there will be times next April and May, when I need a hit of inspiration that my mind will turn to the amazing week I spent learning firefighting (and climbing) at Camp Glow.

With gratitude,

PS. The challenges of reno chaos continue…piles of stuff, coal dust, and building supplies block easy passage through the house. We think we finally have a bathroom vanity that will work with the unique space of our 100 year old bathroom and the drywall is back up…perhaps the summit ridge is in sight.

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