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Taking it to the limit: Columbus firefighters rely on each other to survive training ordeal


Columbus firefighters Steve Loden and Will McReynolds take a moment to discuss the ordeals they faced during a grueling four-day training course held in Pearl earlier this month.

Columbus firefighters Steve Loden and Will McReynolds take a moment to discuss the ordeals they faced during a grueling four-day training course held in Pearl earlier this month. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Sarah Fowler



As recently as two weeks ago, Will McReynolds and Steve Logan didn't know the limit of what they could endure. 


Now, they do. 


"Pushed to our limit; that's what we did," said McReynolds, a firefighter with Columbus Fire and Rescue after a four-day ordeal known as a Smoke Diver course. 


Of a group of 22 participants, only McReynolds, 22, and Loden, 37, managed to make it through the four-day training course held in Pearl. 


Described by Loden as "basic firefighter evolution" the course was a test of physical fitness involving the sort of real-life scenarios that firefighters might potentially face. "It's really good for someone that has been in the fire service a few years to enhance their basic firefighter skills," Loden said. "It was everything from search patterns to firefighting to rescue." 


McReynolds said he feels he and Loden passed the grueling course because of their bond as coworkers. 


The two were hired on the same day in 2011. While they do not work on the same shift, their camaraderie and mutual respect is obvious. 


"We know each other, we work with each other," McReynolds said. "We both made up our minds that we weren't going to quit." 


For Loden, McReynolds' presence was an advantage. 


"It helps to have somebody that you train with side by side and you work with and you know their movements and what they're going to do," he said. "You work with people long enough you can read their body language, you can kind of sense what's going on and what's going to happen next without having to talk about it." 


Loden said part of the reason the duo succeeded was because of their mental ability to push forward through the pain and see the light at the end of the tunnel. 


"A lot of it, too, is where your mindset is when you're doing it." Loden said. "Yeah, we both crossed a point where we were thinking, "We don't want to be here. Why did we come here?' We both burned our hands. We had our knees skinned up, bruises on the bottom of my feet -- you know, just stuff that you push through. All of the pain is there but what are you going to do in the actual life?" 


"One of the things that you get out of that class is when worse comes to worse, and worse is here, you're hurting, you're dehydrated, you just want to give up. That class taught us when you get to the point where you don't want to do, you know in the back of your mind you can do," McReynolds said. "You can push yourself through." 


McReynolds said in addition to having a partner in Loden, relying on the training he received through CFD was a large part of his success in the school. 


"We have a person who trained us, Jeff Edmondson, and through him, our instructors and ourselves, we found a way to get done what we thought was nearly impossible," he said. "You can't do it by yourself. You have to rely on your partner and his strengths. You need to know your weaknesses and his strengths and his weaknesses and your strengths. You work together. Each one of you may not be on top at the time, physically and mentally be there, but you know your partner is going to have to pick that slack up. And it's the same thing there. Whenever one is down, one picks it up." 


Loden and McReynolds are two of 17 active firefighters with CFD who have passed the Smoke Divers class. 


Loden encourages any firefighter to take the class and warns while it might be difficult the outcome is worth the hard work. 


"For those that are in fire service, instead of taking it as bragging rights, actually at least attempt a class, try it one time," Loden said. 


McReynolds, who has earned the nickname of "Steel Will," said not only did the class teach him how to become a better firefighter, it taught him about himself as well. 


"I learned so much about myself just on Monday and Tuesday," he said. "During training, I thought I was being pushed, I thought I was tired. I wasn't tired. Training wasn't anything. Something clicks in your head whenever you get pushed to that limit, you just learn a lot about yourself and what you can and can't do."


Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.



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