Rookie School

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It's hot, and it's humid, especially if you are pulling apart wrecked cars while wearing about 200 pounds of protective clothing and gear. A water break comes, but it only lasts about five minutes — not long enough for the sweat to dry.

Welcome to Rookie School, a 12-week program taught by the Georgia Fire Academy, where first-responder hopefuls see if they have what it takes to become a certified firefighter.

Twenty-four students from seven north Georgia fire departments came to Cartersville for the final week of the program — extrication techniques.

"They come up here to learn extrication techniques," said Capt. Chris Edge of the Cartersville Fire Department. "Mr. Wayne Martin, owner of Martin's Wrecker Service, lets us use his wrecked cars to get our practice."

The three-day course includes techniques for stabilizing unsteady automobiles, extricating trapped passengers from a wrecked auto and using electric and hydraulic rescue tools such as cutters, spreaders and rams.

In a tug-of-war with a 4,000-pound automobile, Cartersville Fire Department candidate Virgil Gentry struggles to keep the car from tipping over. It is being used as a fulcrum to stabilize a heavily damaged car with trapped occupants. If Gentry's rope slips, the other car may roll over, injuring the occupants and the rescuers.

Stabilization tactics seem to be the most important skill these young men learn. 

Indeed, there seems to be a tool for just about every stabilization technique a rescuer might encounter, from the standard issue come-alongs to braces of just about every length that are jammed into an overturned auto to make it stable.

Extricating injured occupants trapped in a vehicle's wreckage often calls for hydraulic or electric spreaders, generically known as the "jaws of life."

Every candidate wields the giant scissors-looking machine as it exerts pressure up to 10,000 pounds per square inch, capable of completely ripping a vehicle apart.

"In one scenario, they encounter a flipped-over vehicle," Edge said. "The windshield has been crushed to a point the rescuers can't make entry through the front. Using these rescue tools, they will literally peel the back of the car off the frame and fold it back, allowing  the rescuers more room to bring the patient out."

Rookie School continues through Friday with hands-on "scene mitigation" and a written test. The six Cartersville candidates — they attend a school run by the Cartersville Fire Department — will graduate Friday night.

"They better be on their toes," Edge said. "Some of them will work their first shift Saturday morning."