‘It was very difficult, but very rewarding’

Andy Simmons Staff writer

November 26, 2013

Four firefighters from the LaGrange Fire Department and one from Coweta County recently passed the Georgia Smoke Diver Class, a course that puts firefighters through some of the toughest conditions possible.

The advanced course was established in 1978 and is a six-day, 60-hour program designed to push firefighters through excruciating circumstances. The course teaches advanced decision-making and situational awareness, as well as leadership for all levels of the command structure of the fire department.

“Nothing was given to us,” said Lt. Austin Starr, one of the four firefighters who recently passed the course. “Everything had to be earned. I have never been pushed so hard, or been so sore and exhausted.”

“It was very difficult, but very rewarding,” said Jonathan Taylor, a firefighter from Coweta, who lives in LaGrange also went through the course.

The course was different everyday, Starr said. After personal training, a 3-to 5-mile run and a 16-station obstacle course, different drills would be presented to the firefighters. This forced them to adapt to different situations and think on their toes.

Keep in mind, all of this had to be done in full firefighter gear.

To prepare for such a course physically, Starr said he heeded the advice of those that who had tackled it before.

“I took advice from current Smoke Divers on the type of workouts and level of fitness I would need to be at,” Starr said. “I joined the local CrossFit gym and they helped me develop daily workouts, sometimes working out three times a day.”

“I started eating a lot more calories and focused more on my upper body more than anything,” Taylor said

But the physical preparation was easy compared to the mental.

“Mental preparation is tough to describe,” Starr said. “You have to have a ‘won’t-quit’ attitude and the ability to keep going even when it’s tough. You know that in real situations quitting is a luxury that we don’t have, because other people’s lives depend on you. This class teaches you that you can keep pushing and moving forward once you hit what you previously thought was your limit.”

Nothing was sweeter to Starr than the feeling he had once he and his fellow classmates crossed the finish line.

“The feeling of accomplishment is indescribable,” he said. “To be a part of something that is bigger than yourself or your department is great. This experience will benefit me throughout the rest of my career in the fire service.”

The course is highly endorsed by those that have finished it.

“I would suggest that every firefighter in the world take this course,” Taylor said.

“They teach us a better, faster way to do our job.”