I made my way through the maze with the help of Captain Keith Gautreau and several enthusiastic firefighters, not to mention full use of my senses of sight and hearing. Not so for the men from Engines 4 (Bramhall Station) and 5 (Central Station), Ladder 4 (Northgate Station), and Medcu 5 (Central Station). Their vision was obstructed by a piece of dark plastic stuck in their air mask, and their thoughts fought to be heard over a crazy CD soundtrack (played from a boom box) that included crashing, shouting, and sirens. I watched eight firefighters go through the maze and it was better than any reality show. Each one had different strengths; each one got caught up in different obstacles; my breath caught in my throat as I silently cheered them on. Not only did I not want to witness the embarrassment of their failure, but I also didn't want these men, who might ostensibly save me from a burning building, to fall from grace navigating a course I'd gone through just an hour earlier (albeit under much easier circumstances).

The primary objective of last week's training was to help firefighters identify emergency situations in which they need help. Too many injuries and deaths happen when a firefighter "either doesn't call Mayday or calls it too late," says Captain Phil McGouldrick, who hypothesized that part of that reticence comes from the somewhat "macho" stereotype of the job. (There are eight female firefighters in the PFD; none were present last Wednesday.)

But luckily, that doesn't happen here, nor is it likely to. "The last time we had a firefighter emergency? I couldn't even tell you," McGouldrick says. "That shows what we're doing is working."

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