Editor’s Note: This column was written by Peter Blanchard, editor of the Cortland Voice, who took part in a Fire Ops 101 training session in Colonie, N.Y., on Tuesday, May 2. He was accompanied by Cortland firefighter Travis Marshall.

CORTLAND, N.Y. — I’ll be honest, when I agreed to participate in a Fire Ops 101 pseudo-training session at a state firefighters’ conference taking place about three hours from Cortland, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into.

Do I regret it? Absolutely not.

I should start by saying this was not your usual ride-along with a firefighter or police officer. I arrived at the Cortland Fire Department early Tuesday morning, where I met up with Travis Marshall, a village of DeRuyter resident who has worked as a firefighter for the city of Cortland for the past several years (I later learned that Marshall is actually the mayor of DeRuyter).

We drove to the town of Colonie, N.Y., about 7 miles south of Albany, where firefighters from more than a dozen different departments across the state convened for a Fire Ops 101 training session, hosted by the New York State Professional Firefighters Association and the Albany Permanent Professional Firefighters Association.

The purpose of the event is to give politicians and media representatives a small taste of what it’s like to be a firefighter. Notable guests included Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Troy Deputy Mayor Kurzejeski, and Albany City Council members. Media representatives from NEWS10 in Albany, Spectrum News and the Albany Times-Union were also present and took part in the training.

For a young news reporter like myself, it was a chance to take my eyes away from my computer screen for a day and scratch the surface of what it’s like to be a firefighter.

Marshall would serve as my handler for the day as I took part in four different exercises: searching a house with a blurred mask to a simulate a search for victims; extricating a victim from a car using seriously heavy-duty tools, including the Jaws of Life; operating a fire hose and ladder; and entering a controlled fire situation to experience the intensity of heat and smoke in a small space (temperatures exceeded 700 degrees).

Some exercises were more exhilarating than others, but the whole experience was nothing short of eye-opening — and exhausting. I walked away with a true appreciation for the incredible tasks these firefighters carry out on a regular basis, all while wearing heavy equipment, gear, and oxygen tanks.

I also got a chance to see the camaraderie among firefighters from across the state, many of whom, prior to Tuesday’s event, had never met each other. We heard from Eugene Stolowski, a former New York City firefighter who survived a deadly house fire in the Bronx that is now referred to as Black Sunday.

Needless to say, I left the event with a tremendous amount of respect for the profession, and with a greater knowledge of the dangers involved in fighting today’s fires compared with blazes of the past.

The high volume of plastic built into our everyday appliances and furniture creates toxic, black smoke when burned, versus burning a cleaner material like wood.

Marshall’s father, grandfather and uncles were volunteer firefighters. Those days were different, he said.

“The fires we fight today are a lot different than the fires my grandfather fought,” Marshall told me. Nowadays, you’re trained to save yourself.”

Marshall said that while he loves his job, he knows it can take its toll. It is widely known that firefighters are at a higher risk for certain types of cancer due to their exposure to toxic contaminants.

Perhaps Albany Deputy Fire Chief Joe Toomey put it best when he said:

“This is the greatest job in the world. We say it all the time, and it is true. But there is a price.”

Click here to check out our photo gallery from the Fire Ops 101 event at the Colonie Municipal Training Center. All photos were taken by Travis Marshall.