Photo Gallery: Irmo Fire Department training never stops

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Training for Irmo firefighters goes far beyond 9-5 (photo by Allen Wallace)

Training for Irmo firefighters goes far beyond 9-5. (photo by Allen Wallace)

How many hours do you spend in training to improve your job performance? For most people, the answer is not “Close to 200 hours per year or more,” but that’s what it takes to be a firefighter in the Irmo Fire District. The district is hiring right now, but it takes a lot more to do the job than many people realize.

“We want the highest quality candidates to serve this community,” Assistant Chief John Hendrix said.

The hiring and training process is meant to ensure just that. This is not a job for beginners: As a smaller department, the Irmo Fire District expects those hired to be ready to perform immediately.

Candidates in Irmo must be certified firefighters before applying, as well as certified Emergency Medical Responders, since the district handles many medical calls as well. After submitting proof of those qualifications, the real work to win the job begins: a process that can take up to three months and includes written tests and interviews as well as tests of the applicant’s strength and agility.

Firefighters must be fast and agile enough to run and climb while wearing heavy equipment and strong enough to carry a person out of a burning building or lift a fallen ceiling or other debris off someone in need of rescue.

Once hired, the training , as Hendrix said, “never ends.” The district provides benefits and as many creature comforts as possible. It also makes a constant effort to retain firefighters, who come to Irmo from all over the U.S. and even Canada. For all the technology and equipment involved, Hendrix said, “The most important thing in a fire department is the firefighters themselves.”

Veterans in Irmo say it takes six months to a year for a crew to build cohesiveness and for new firefighters to prove themselves. It is a job, after all, in which firefighters must trust your co-workers with their lives.

Working 24 hours on duty, then 48 off, firefighters spend one-third of their lives at headquarters. There is time for fun and fellowship, but the time between calls is far from idle. Irmo Fire District firefighters spend at least 196 hours training each year, with that number rising to nearly 300 hours for some officers and investigators.

In case that’s not enough, they also handle many of the support functions needed to keep the district running. Firefighters are assigned jobs from truck and equipment maintenance to groundskeeping to running social media and handling public relations. Hendrix referred to these assignments as “collateral duties” and said they take care of them in house to save money for taxpayers. Even the lockers in which gear for responding to fires hangs were built by Irmo firefighters.

The district handles an average of 2,500 calls per year. Their average response time in 2012 was six minutes and 18 seconds, a number of which Hendrix said they are very proud.

“If you live in the Irmo Fire District and you call for help, in six minutes and 18 seconds on average, you’ll have a fire truck and four professional firefighters at your door saying ‘How may I help you?’ ” he said.

The department also provides fire safety programs, car seat inspections and many other community outreach operations every year. The Irmo Fire District was founded in 1963.

“It was built on the backs of citizens,” Hendrix said.

Once, a team of firefighters was made up mostly of volunteers. Now the department has 42 paid employees working at two stations, with expansion planned for the near future.

For more on the Irmo Fire District’s mission and what it takes to be a firefighter, click here.