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Firefighters come out of smoke stronger than before
Group of Hall safety workers graduates survival, rescue training
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Sgt. Rhodes Berry with Hall County Fire Services shows how he would use a pair of pliers to repel from a building Wednesday in an emergency situation at the Allen Creek Training Center. Berry recently graduated from the Georgia Smoke Diver course, which places emphasis on the day-to-day challenges firefighters face at structure fires, multiple-alarm fires and multiple fires within a single shift. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In a week filled with fatiguing firefighting training, Sgt. Rhodes Berry said the biggest obstacle came at 5 a.m.

“For me, the hardest thing was just waking up every morning and getting up to start the day,” the Hall County firefighter said.

Berry and four others graduated this month from Georgia Smoke Diver training, an advanced six-day program focused on “self-survival, firefighter rescue, advanced search and rescue” and other procedures, according to the group.

The graduates were Berry, Sgt. Jason Deaton, Sgt. Brian Gregory and firefighters Zach Mills and Austin Morgan. The five are in a group of 41 Hall County firefighters to complete the course since the early 1980s, with usually two classes going each year.

Getting to the starting block by 6:45 a.m., Deaton said the group went through “intense physical training for the first three hours of the day.”

“When things are bad and we’re tired, we need to be able to call on our training and perform at a high level then,” Gregory said.

While the graduates are expected to teach others what they’ve learned, the five are now more advanced on rapid intervention in dangerous situations.

“If firefighters go down, we would possibly be the more familiar (personnel)... to get that person out,” Gregory said.

Because of the intensity of the course, Gregory said the attrition rate can be above 60 percent.

Berry said he stumbled in a previous attempt on a 16-station obstacle course during the middle of the week.

“I didn’t want to quit,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out that way.”

Returning with this most recent group, Berry said he was glad he persevered through the training.

“I knew what was coming, but it was still just as physically hard as I remember,” he said.

With at least seven years of experience for each of the sergeants, the course offered a refresher on the basic training while providing advanced procedural tips on each step of the way.

From pulling up to the scene and eventually entering a structure, the participants were pushed beyond their usual limits for day-to-day challenges.

“They stress details from the very beginning,” Gregory said.

The firefighters learned the smoke diver’s creed by heart, having to recite it to the liking of the instructors.

“When my thoughts beckon my tired body homeward, I will resist the temptation to depart. I will try again,” reads an excerpt of the creed. “I will make one more attempt to close with victory, and if that fails, I will make another. When others cease their struggle, then mine will begin, and my harvest will be full.”

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