Lt. Anthony J. Augusti, who doesn't like heights much, said he was nervous about rappelling down the side of a five-story building.
But once he got a practice run from a third-floor window, he felt like going all the way to the top and jumping off.
"It was great," said the volunteer firefighter/paramedic from Cape. St. Claire. "That was my first time. That is really something. I definitely want to do that again. It was actually fun."
It took awhile before all 20 of the trainees were ready to go to the top of the tower, located at the county fire department training grounds in Millersville. First, they had to learn how to hook up the ropes and how to tie the proper knots.
But once the classroom exercises were over, the class was brought outside for some hands-on learning.
The students were all rescue workers for Anne Arundel and surrounding counties, all trained as cardiac rescue technicians.
After completing the year-long 27-credit course at Anne Arundel Community College, they will be certified as paramedics and able to render advanced life support to their patients.
"These are the final days of some of the heaviest days of training in the state of Maryland," said Tom Pezza, who has worked for the county fire department for five years.
The students have gone through a full-time course for the entire year, inaddition to working in area hospitals learning about advanced life support and training in the field. They also had to keep their full- or part-time jobs with the fire department.
"If they don't work, they could lose their certification," said Valerie Simonds, the coordinator for the program at the community college. "It's a double whammy."
As part of learning advanced life-support techniques, the students also must learn advanced ways of rescuing people.
"Often, we get people at the bottom of bridges and we have to know how to use ropes to raise them up," said Kim Cissna, a seven-year member of the county fire department.
He said he was a rescuer the day the Route 198bridge collapsed over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and he wished he knew then what he knows now.
"We had to extricate and raise people up," Pezza said. "This training could have come in handy."
After finishing training this weekend, which included rescu
ing a dummy from the tower and extricating someone from a wrecked car, the students will start studying for their national exam.
Once that is passed, they will be fully certified as paramedics. But they had to get down from the tower first.
And the trainees, even the leery ones, all made it down.
Division Chief Roger Simonds, who commands all the county's rescue workers, made it look easy as he clung to the rope while bouncing around the wall.
"No problem," he said, just before making a soft landing in the giant air bag on the ground. "You can go wherever you want."
And the whole training experience is well worth the effort, even for Augusti, who doesn't like heights but plans to become a full-time firefighter when he finishes the class.
"There is nothing more rewarding," he said of his job, "especially when you help some old lady. It's a great feeling."