PANAMA CITY, Fla. — A handful of firefighters from Panama City, Panama City Beach and Bay County Fire Rescue took part in a high-intensity skills training course over the weekend in Panama City.
“We thought it would be a good idea to have it here and offer the opportunity to a lot of the locals,” said Panama City Fire Department Lieutenant, Kevin Lolley.
The “F.L.A.M.E.S.” course, which stands for Firefighters Laboring and Mastering Essential Skills, was created in Georgia; it is traditionally held there, but it has been brought outside of the Peach State for the first time this year.
“To have them here is a privilege,” said Lolley.
Charles Baxter, the Fire Chief of Chatsworth, Georgia, helped to design the course, which is nationally recognized.
“The premise is to master those most basic skills in the worst possible environment as far as stress, physical exhaustion,” said Baxter.
He said it’s like the fire academy but with a lot less sleep and a lot more pressure, putting minds and bodies through extreme stress; those who have been through it can attest.
“It’s a 48 hour class and you have limited rest periods,” said Lolley, who has experienced the course.
Panama City Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief, Justin Busch, has also been through it.
“You’re tired, people are yelling at you, you’re hungry, cold,” he explained. “All the elements play a part and then you still have to perform.”
In the meantime, the firefighters are constantly medically-examined, checking to ensure they are still in a healthy-enough state to continue the training. Those who are not must be sent home, but always have the opportunity to try again the next time the course is offered.
Baxter said it’s all to make a better firefighter.
“If you can perform under those conditions, you can perform under any conditions,” he said.
The goal is to get them as prepared as possible for intense emergencies.
“It builds skill and it builds confidence,” said Lolley. “It shows you that you have a lot more to offer than you initially think you can.”