Monday, June 2, 2014

"You must be a tough gal."

I arrived at the warehouse and quickly snagged one of the "good" pack test vests, after weighing it and discarding one of the lead weights (I'll carry the required 45 pounds, but not 49). One of the fire engine crew, lurking around, saw me and said, "You're taking the pack test? You must be a tough gal!"

Sigh.

Let me back up a little. In case you aren't familiar, in order to fight fire every year, you have to pass a physical fitness test. Back in the day, we stepped up and down on a box (kind of like step aerobics) while someone held a watch. After several minutes, your pulse was taken. If it fell into an acceptable range, you got your "red card". Because this wasn't an accurate way of measuring fitness, this test was later discarded, but for awhile we ran instead. You had to finish one and a half miles in 11:45, which is pretty easy, and we all would cruise to the finish feeling good about ourselves.

Sometime in the nineties, the work capacity test, or pack test, arrived. You had to lug a backpack weighing 45 pounds, or a truly horrifying bladder bag (rubber bag full of water, all the weight on your shoulders) three miles in 45 minutes. Which sounds easy until you try it. For vertically challenged people, this is not easy, but it is possible for people in decent shape. Now there are weighted vests which make it even easier (but not easy).

I looked around the room to spy--men. A sea of men. I was the only woman taking the pack test, and most of the others were young enough that I could be their mom, a truly awful feeling. It wasn't as bad as someone marveling that a girl could do it though. I thought, where are all the women? When I started fighting fire in 1986, there were only a handful of us. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good. I can't say I was totally responsible for paving the way for women to be accepted on the fireline--a few had been there already, and others went on to smokejump. But I had hoped by now that a woman doing a pack test would not be a big deal.

We pounded the pavement, and it was fine. I ended up with two blisters and my running shoes are showing the same kind of wear as my old ones, a blow-out on the left outer side. Why is this happening? Are my feet getting wider? Runners, please advise!

The pack test is not a race, but the young guys try to make it one. Out of thirteen I finished third. I guess "gals" can do it after all.

17 comments:

  1. Dude. I can't run three miles in 11:45. I've never been able to do that! It takes me 20 minutes to run three miles. It's easy for you??? I am a little scared now.

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    1. Ha ha ha, I made an error! It's one and a half miles in 11:45. If I could run three miles in 12 minutes I should have been in the Olympics instead of sitting behind a desk. Good catch. Twenty minutes is a great time. Not sure I could do that anymore.

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    2. Haha. Wow, no kidding. I was blown away for a minute there.

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    3. Ha, I just came to comment that I don't think running 1.5 miles in 11:45 is exactly easy. I have a tough time breaking 8 minute miles. If you could run the 5,000-meter in 12 minutes you'd be by far the fastest man or woman in that distance, ever.

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    4. Typically we ran on a flat paved surface (though not always) which is easier than the trails you run! I found it way easier than the pack test. Hiking at 15 mph or less with heavy weight just seems harder for me. You can't shuffle run either.

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  2. Great job! Way to show the guys how it's done!

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  3. Congratulations! The word gal makes me cringe.
    Tracy Z (reader from WA State who really should comment more)

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  4. I run as fast as most people walk, so 11:45 would be a tough 1.5 miles for me. A 9.5 minute mile is about my top speed. I'm glad they don't do it that way anymore! I have always had other women there when I did my pack test, and it has always been really 'normal'. No comments from the guys. I'm a bit surprised there weren't any other women there, though they do tend to run multiple test dates so maybe they were/are doing a different day?

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    1. Hey Dragon. Was wondering how you are. This year there are only about three fire women and I think the other office types only did the moderate.2 MI 25 lbs 30 min (I think)

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    2. Hey Mary,
      I'm in the 6th week of the new job. We should get together and go for a hike and chat sometime this summer. I was in Enterprise last weekend for Langdon Cook's mushroom talk and workshop and hunt. It was R's birthday so we came up for a couple of days, went to Flora to visit some folks with a yurt and yaks. Never even made it up to Joseph, but had a great time.

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  5. I was based out of the southeast for years. Always a few of us 'gals' doing the pack test, but it was out west where I met way more girls. Always felt nice cruising in to finish ahead of the guys most vocal with their comments...

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  6. We had at least 1/3 women at my Pack Test last week. Another year, another pack test under 45 minutes, so sucess. Fire refresher last week and I'm good to go. I agree the vests are much easier although 45 lbs never feels easy. Can you imagine our backpacking packs weighing that much?! Yikes.

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  7. Tag, you're it! http://jansjaunts.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-liebster-award/

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  8. When I was younger, 45 pounds was nothing for a regular backpack, but nowadays it would be brutal. I've gotten on board with the ultralight mindset and I like it a lot! I Wish I could still carry 70 pounds on a trek, not that I would, but just to know that I still could (but I can't, sigh).

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    1. 45# used to seem really light! Glad tje job is working out. Im always up for a hike.

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