Drivers who have trouble parallel parking on regular city streets should try it sometime with a firetruck.
Firefighters from Fenton, Cedar Hill, Eureka, and Valley Park took part in driver training exercises Wedneday on a vast parking lot adjacent to the old Chrysler plant site.
It was all under the direction of Deputy Chief of Training Rob Odenwald, who put the firefighters through their paces on a competency course that tested their driving skills.
Orange highway cones were placed at strategic intervals on the parking lot that simulated some of the driving conditions fire departments face when at a fire scene. In many cases, the cones were placed so tightly together that there was only a few inches of leeway for the drivers between success and failure.
The training was carried out under the guidelines of the Voluntary Firefighters Insurance Service. All firefighters must pass the course before being certified to drive one of the fire trucks at a live fire scene.
"It's really about the guys getting used to the handling characteristics of the truck," Odenwald said. "It's not a competition but an evaluation of their driving skills."
The training course started with a straight line of cones placed in an alignment only a few inches wider than the truck. Firefighters had to drive through the gauntlet and then back up through the cones. Brushing against the cones generally did not result in a loss of points, but a flattened cone would have subtracted points from a firefighter's total score. The next test was backing up into a narrow parking space, again formed with several cones.
Following the parking place test, firefighters had to make a "three-point" turn-around in a small space. That test was followed by the "serpentine," that called for drivers to negotiate through a snake-like pattern of cones -- backwards.
After that it was parallel parking, which, given the successful results, it appeared many of the drivers had grown up in south St. Louis and had mastered the technique of snuggling up to the curb, or in this case, another line of cones.
Odenwald said the driving skills are necessary at some fire scenes where there a lot of other vehicles present, or where there otherwise are unforeseen obstacles in place. He said it's better to smash a few cones than sideswipe a car located near a fire scene.
Although a firefighter's job can be very hazardous, Odenwald said many of the driving-related accidents occur when rushing to a fire scene and having motorists who don't yield the right-of-way to the flashing lights and sirens.