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The sun beat down on Firefighter Certification Academy cadets Saturday, Feb. 3, as they made their first crack at the academy?s infamous Grinder.

By Trista Steers
Larson Newspapers

The sun beat down on Firefighter Certification Academy cadets Saturday, Feb. 3, as they made their first crack at the academy?s infamous Grinder.

Wearing firefighting gear — coat, pants, boots and helmet — 16 cadets from around the Verde Valley got a taste of what it takes to work in fire service.

?You?ve got to see what they can take. You?ve got to see if they can take the pressure,? Sedona Fire District firefighter Ken Krebbs said.

Krebbs is one of four academy instructors for Yavapai College.

?We normally average about a 50 percent drop-out [rate],? Krebbs said.

The Grinder is a physical agility test that simulates tasks firefighters need to perform on a fire scene. The obstacle course is used in the academy to test fitness.

Completion of the academy, HAZMAT and emergency medical technician training are required to become a firefighter in the Verde Valley.

Carrying hoses up stairs, raising a ladder and dragging a dummy were among the 11 tasks required to complete the Grinder.
Not everyone finished.

?This is just an eye-opener for them that they?ve got to get in good shape,? SFD Fire Inspector and instructor Sean Chartier said.

Other cadets supported each other, cheering and clapping as their peers went through the course.

Chartier said the academy also instills camaraderie in cadets that carries over into the profession.

Completion on the first attempt isn?t required, but by the end of the semester, cadets must finish the Grinder in under 10 minutes, with the addition of a confined space station and wearing a breathing apparatus.

Cadets will run the Grinder at mid-semester to check their progress and again at the end of the course.

Krebbs said the academy is similar to boot camp in that instructors break down cadets physically and mental and them build them into finely tuned firefighters.

?We can teach a monkey how to put the wet stuff on the hot stuff,? Krebbs said, but it takes compassion, a good attitude and fitness to be a firefighter.

?We?re the gatekeepers,? Krebbs said. ?We?re here to weed out the people who aren?t going to make it as a firefighter.?

On Saturday, the third day of the academy, cadets arrived at the Cottonwood Training Center to run at 6 a.m. The Grinder came later in the afternoon, after cadets were already tired.

?It?s a rough day for them,? Krebbs said.

Upon completion of the 10-credit-hour class, cadets have to pass a State Fire Marshal?s Office test to become certified firefighters.

Certified firefighters are eligible for employment in the Verde Valley, however, they are not guaranteed a job.

The academy is part of a two-year associate?s degree of applied science in fire science at Yavapai College.

A fire science degree is needed to become a fire chief.

According to Dave Marshall, Yavapai College program director of fire science, only five students complete the degree program each year.

Currently there are 275 in the program, Marshall said.

In the next four months, cadets will complete 90 hours of classroom time and approximately 300 hours of hands-on

Instructors teach equipment use, technique and teamwork two nights a week and every other weekend for the entire semester.

To complete the program, cadets have to make a major time commitment to the academy, Krebbs said — a commitment that will last the rest of their lives.

?This needs to be a lifestyle, not a job,? Krebbs said. ?If it?s not, you?ll never make it.?

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