trial by fire

An innovative obstacle course developed by local fire departments

The scoreboard buzzer kicks off the action—but instead of a tipoff, groups of students scramble to put on fire fighters’ gear.

In one group, Grant Vialardi, John Jay Class of 2023 and an EMT with Vista Fire Department, guides students through the technique of stepping into boots then pulling up the pants. Classmates help senior Megan Flynn hoist the oxygen tank onto her back; Vialardi snaps on her helmet. She picks up a water can, turns towards the bleachers, and starts towards the top. Altogether, the gear weighs about 65 pounds.

This is Trial by Fire, an innovative obstacle course brought to John Jay High School’s physical education classes on April 24 and 25 by the fire departments that serve the Katonah-Lewisboro Schools community.

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”

Captain DeRosa, a teacher by training and the assistant modified girls lacrosse coach for John Jay Middle School, introduced the program to each PE class. “It’s going to be chaotic in here,” she said. “That’s what it’s like at a fire.”

“Fire doubles every thirty seconds,” Captain DeRosa said to the students, when introducing Don and Doff, the relay race which requires each student to put on firefighters’ gear and walk to the top of the bleachers. “Speed is important … but, what do we always say?” She turned to the semi-circle of fire fighters behind her.

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” they said in unison, emphasizing the importance of accuracy, consistency and a controlled pace.

Filling the gym with good feelings of connection and community

Beyond being a physical challenge for students, Trial by Fire filled the gym with the good feelings of community service, connections between neighbors and John Jay pride.

Davide Palmarini, John Jay class of 1994 and member of the Katonah Fire Department, was helping at the radio communications challenge. In between groups of students, he looked up at the banners lining the gym ceiling, searching for the year that his soccer team was a contender for the conference championship. “It’s nice to be back,” he said.