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Friday, July 13, 2007

Who's Got an Axe to Grind?

Back when I was in training for the Fire Department, having gone through mostly academics for four months, we were then subjected to the last six weeks of training. At "The Tower".

The dreaded Tower.

I had worked hard in the academics and rivaled another guy (whose Dad was a Chief) for the top spot in the class. But being a woman, I knew that I could not maintain that position, and this reality was brought home in our first week at the Tower.

They had a setup to include a six story building attached to a two-story "residential" building with a typical Minnesota roof. There was also a specially-built training building which allowed for different floor plans, smoke machines, and propane-fueled flames.

And they had the chopping simulator. This was a one-story building with four cutouts fit for wooden pallets. I remember my first experience and training evolution involving this; we had to climb a ground ladder, step onto a roof ladder, climb it, step out onto the peak, move along it to the far side and climb down the ariel ladder (from the ladder truck) which was extended up to the peak. Then we went to the chopping simulator.

Most of we women just didn't have the strength to grab a pallet, which was more unweildy than it was heavy (although some were very heavy!) and carry it up a ladder, so some of the guys helped with this. It was put in place, and when we could chop through it (by breaking ALL the boards, leaving only the frame, and then chop the frame and push it through the holes to "clear" it from the roof), we'd be done.

I was given a pallet, thrilled it seemed to be very weak. So I swung the ax, which had a dull blade - they all did - and it bounced back at me without a result. Surprised, I swung again, harder. It bounced higher.

Frustrated, I really went to town on this thing, determined that it would not win. And finally a board broke. I rejoiced and continued until the axe flew out of my had from an especially surprising rebound. While a fellow classmate retrieved the tool for me, one of the other guys stopped what he was doing long enough to make a few suggestions, which, at the time, I thought made no sense. The boards were clearly the weakest in the center. I could jump on it and break it...why wouldn't the axe cut through? So I initially ignored his advice, decided I just wasn't swinging hard enough, and redoubled my efforts, resulting only in futile swings, much sweat, much frustration...and a "failure". My coworker just shook his head as I descended the ladder in exhaustion and defeat.

I had to try again later as we went through other training evolutions. And the situation repeated itself. I exhausted myself trying to break the pallet at it's strongest point, which, in my mind, was the weakest point. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get through the springy wood. It continued to repel my axe. All around me, the guys were turning their pallets into toothpicks...and I couldn't even get through ONE!

Finally the Captain ordered me down, and after taking off the SCBA, the coat, and my helmet so I could wipe off the sweat and pour water on my head in the ninety-degree September heat, one of the guys pulled me aside. Another joined him. They explained to me why my pallet wasn't breaking; it had nothing to do with a lack of strength, but was completely about technique. They explained how the weaker points were really up against the frame, how to hit it so it would break, and that I wouldn't have to work so hard. They gave the same instruction to a couple other of the women, because this wasn't an issue of men versus women; we were a unified group, and where one was failing, all were failing. If not individually, then at least as a team. It literally hurt all of us to see one person struggling, and of course, there was the practical concern; we had to be able to depend on each other. One day, our lives may be in that person's hands, and the trust factor was greatly needed. We had to build each other up and help them overcome their own weaknesses.

I recieved a similar lesson when fighting with the hose one day...I simply could not hold it, advance it while on my knees, and control a straight stream. When I had to hold my position, even on my knees, without someone to support me from the back, the water pressure literally pushed me backwards. It was exhausting.

I wasn't the only person with this problem, and one female coworker provided a tip she got from another firefighter who'd gone through this training the year prior. As it was, I never got the opportunity to test that particular technique, but I have no doubt it worked as others did try it and were able to maintain and advance as they needed.

Does anyone else see a metaphor for "fraternal correction"?

When another member of the mystical Body of Christ is suffering, we all suffer in some way. When that person is struggling, engaging in a futile and self-destructive act, which also may affect us all, we MUST speak up and offer constructive correction. They are destroying themselves and putting everyone else at risk.

In training, we had to focus on saving lives.

In the Church, we focus on saving souls. Can we trust one another with our souls?

If we are not willing to speak up in correction or guidance, we are helping to sever any unity that might exist. If we are the ones in error, we NEED that correction before the axe we're using to beat through our agenda goes flying out of our hands and into an innocent person's back. We NEED to be brought to bear, or we'll go so far off course that the rest of the Body is brought down. Conversely, if we recognize that someone is doing something wrong, we are obligated to step in and provide some instruction.

Ultimately, the decision to listen to truth or to disregard is in the hands of the one in error, yet, when the error is chosen over truth, it hurts everyone, it affects everyone, and we are wounded greviously.

I'll never forget the willingness of my class to come to my aid when I was in error, and I'll never forget how much it hurt when someone failed. Part of our training involved building and recognizing that special unity we had as a team, that special bond between us all, and the understanding the reality that we had to depend upon one another.

It is no different in the Church, whether we are considering our own personal conduct or public conduct when claiming to represent the Church as a Catholic. None of us is perfect; we all struggle with something, perhaps many things. So it is that we are responsible for knowing our faith and doing our best to live it, go to Confession when needed, and accept legitimate correction when we are wrong. Beating a pulpit in futility destroys us, causes schrapnel to fly, and wounds the rest of the Body. And when we see that someone else is engaging in such behavior, be it subtle and known only to us as a close friend, or be it publicly and loudly, we must intervene and attempt to put a stop to the damage being done.

And just to sum it up with another metaphor:

A properly sharpened axe, when used correctly, even though sweat and muscle are a part of the process, makes short work of big obstacles.

Thanks, guys, for taking the time to teach me how to do it right.


Fr. V said...

And to give correction in kindness & charity. Just makes it a little easier pill to swallow.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Very good post.
If you want to learn something, listen to those with experience--why reinvent the wheel? What we do affects others--we are not lone islands.

In all honesty though, I think women should not be firemen. If my child is in a burning house, I want a big strapping six foot muscle laden fireman to save her.

Even a weak man can be stronger than the strongest woman.

We all need to acknowledge our physical limitations. If I don't have 20/20 vision, I should not fly a helicopter.

IMHO, women should not be priests, truck drivers, firemen, or be put into combat situations.

Adoro said...

Tara, actually...I knew women who would decimate the "weakest" guy. You have no idea.

Ok, I have to say this...women CAN'T be fireMEN. They CAN be FireFIGHTERS. LOL! The job does not require a sex change!

Women CAN do the job, but the reality is that we need to work 3 times as hard to do it. Most of us, anyway. This job breaks men down at an alarming rate...imagine what it does to MOST women.

I'd say about half the women, maybe more, who get into firefighting are actually..well...of the very strong persuasion. God DOES gift certain women with the abilities to do the job in the long-term, and they do bring something to the job that men can't. Perhaps some other communities have a different form of EMS, but I can tell you, in my area, if you call 911, you're getting a big red truck. We were trained not just to put out fires, but as EMT's, so respond to all medical calls in our area, along with the Medics out of the local Trauma Centers. We were also trained up to the level of Haz Mat Specialist, and those who continue after being on the job for awhile become Fire Motor Operaters (which focuses on the trucks and things outside the fire. It's a "cush" job in comparison, to, say, working on the Ladder truck and being a "truckie"). There is high-angle rescue, collapse rescue, and other specialized rescues, which often operate off of one truck. They may be trained in several specialities, and many of those involve intelligence, the ability to strategize, knowledge of physics, and technique, more so than strength.

Women do great things for and with the fire deprtment, and those of smaller stature can often get into smaller spaces. Firefighters do not just go into burning buildings. We were trained in rescues in small spaces to mimic tunnels and wells. and can you guess who had an easier time in limited space? Women. The big, strapping men? Yeah. There simply wasn't enough room for them to do good for anyone.

Someday, although I pray not, you may eat your words when a female firefighter or cop comes to the aid of you or your children or some other loved one and does a job a big strapping man cannot.

Much of firefighting is not about strenght, but about technique, as I had stated. Yet strength IS needed, every day. The equipment is heavy. Muscle is NEEDED, and actually, women are built well for some parts of the job.

It seems you may have a very limited view with regard to what firefighters really do. Hollywood glamorizes a lot, so you don't get to see the vast majority of how lives are really saved.

I agree that women should not be priests...not argument! But there's a theological reason with regard to that.

Why don't you think women should be truck drivers?

I also agree women should not be put into combat situations, but that's for another post and involves a bit of Theology of the Body! LOL

Anonymous said...

Adoro, are those two pictures of you? Finally, we sort of get to see you!

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add you look very cute, uh, I mean capable and professional.

Terry Nelson said...

Not meaaning to contradict you, but the firemen I know ( 3 longtime vets, and one newbie) tell me they would rather not have female fire fighters, and they also tell me most of the guys they work with feel the same.

Adoro said...


Yeah, the Ol' Boy's Club still exists. I worked with a guy, when I was on light duty, (he was on light duty, too), a grandpa. He called me "little bit", and told me very candidly that he didn't think women should be on the job.

But here's the thing; most guys don't think women should be on the job, yet at the same time, if a woman saves their ass, they're just as grateful as if it had been a man.

Guys who DON'T mind women on the job really don't say much around the other guys, because of the Boy's club peer pressure.

And there's another issue...that being the Ol' Lesbian's club.

It's very hard to be a straight woman and a firefighter at the same time. There. I said it.

And if you're referring to any St. Paul FF's...well, they've had some lawsuits revolving around St. Paul's obvious attempt to keep women off the job. Don't put much stock in them. I know a couple guys from St. Paul, and they're awesome and don't reflect the general position. I also know a younger guy, and he's all for women being on the job...if they can do it.

The reality is that we all have to deal with the world that we live in...not the one that we WANT to live in.

I'm not there any more, didn't complete the Tower due to injury, and I'm glad I'm not there. But I can tell you this; women do deserve to be on the job if they can do it, and damn what some guys think. All I have to say to them is "Bite me!" If you want your Boys' Club, have a poker night and then you can congratuate yourself for being men.

The fact is that a lot of men can't stand the idea that they might one day be saved by a woman. It's a blow to their manhood. It's because they forget that Mary said "yes" before Jesus ever went to the cross.

Anonymous said...

"It seems you may have a very limited view with regard to what firefighters really do."

Perhaps, oh, and you do look good in your uniform, it just seems that these jobs would require great physical strength--and I do agree that most women would have to work three times as hard as men, as firefighters.

Truck drivers do not just drive trucks, they have to crank down heavy landing gears, unload, place winter chains on huge tires--everything about a semi-truck requires muscle.

Jim, my husband, just said--sheesh Tara, there is no reason women can't be truck drives--semi's are all now automatic and there are probably thousands of women truck drivers today.

Oh, geeze, guess I'm a bit sexist and it's showing. But guys look soooo masculine, and hunky in their firefighters uniform, I guess I like the Hollywood fantasy of the big strong macho man rescuing the delicate beautiful woman. LOL!

Adoro said...

Yeah, the Hollywood image has actually done a lot of damage. But then again, I could do a lot of damage were I to engage in gossip and tell you what it's really like in the station and on the job. One of the reasons I'm thrilled not to be there anymore.

It does take a lot of strength, but again, there are some women who are quite the Amazon women, they do not take steroids, but just have natural strength and bone structure. God bless them.

I don't know if you're familiar with Fr. Loya on Relevant Radio (or maybe Ave Maria Radio?). Here he's on RR every Thursday morning on Morning Air. A couple months ago a young woman called in and was asking about her possible call to the fire dept. She said that she has natural strength and really wanted to do the job, but was concerned whether, as a Catholic, this would be a betrayal of her femininity. How is this viewed in Theology of the Body?

Fr. Loya (I think I'm spelling his name wrong) simply stated that if she had the gifts, it was proper to use them, even if it seemed out of place. He allowed that women do bring something very special to the job (firefighters run FAR more medical calls than fires, ironically), and she should work to bring those gifts to it even as she allowed her other gifts involving the proper strength to be put to use in saving lives and property.

We have to be able to do the job in order to do it; there are no lessened standards for women.

See my post here, a rant on inclusive language, but which goes into more detail involving how I feel about this topic:

(One of these days I'll have to learn how to use html in the combox so I can parse links!)

If there is demand, I'll repost that particular link and make the post current.

And just to share with you that I'm not an Amazon by any means...I like the idea of a big hunky man saving the delicate woman, too, except that I've never been "delicate" and I don't know any hunky men who aren't a box of rocks. Now...if I could find a big hunky man who happens to be a solid Catholic, has intelligence and wit, and is versed in Theology of the Body, maybe bound for the permanent deaconate, etc., well, that might be the guy for me!

As Bonnie Tyler said, "He'd have to be a Superman to sweep me off my feet!"