Outfitted in full firefighter gear and breathing apparatus, Mayor Nutter recently braved 900-degree flames inside a burning building, climbed out a third-story window onto a 35-foot ladder, and cut open a car with the Jaws of Life.
He looked like he had hardly broken a sweat, but perhaps the smoke went to his head.
Days after completing "Fire Ops 101" last Saturday at the Fire Academy, Nutter said he wanted to run similar boot camps for public officials, civic leaders and ordinary Philadelphians. "I'm going to talk to the managing director about how we replicate that experience," Nutter said Thursday. "Because I think it's important for someone like myself . . . to get a very up-close view of what it's like to be a public employee in these kinds of positions."
That experience included rolling up to a burning building in a fire engine, crawling in with a hose, and handling a hose nozzle - all the while, knuckles searing as flames rolled overhead - to control a roomful of burning hay.
Other stations had different tasks, including climbing, in full gear, 55 feet to the top of a five-story building and cutting a hole in the roof; blindly searching a room for survivors; cutting through concrete with a diamond-tip chainsaw; reviving a heart attack victim with CPR; and using airbags to lift a rail car off a victim on the tracks.
Nutter was one of 15 participants, including Pennsylvania House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, State Rep. George Kenney, City Councilmen Bill Green and James F. Kenney, and Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety.
Also participating were two council aides, three reporters, and two lawyers. One of those lawyers represents the city in ongoing negotiations with the firefighters' union. The other represents the firefighters.
Margaret Brogan, the arbitrator for the negotiations, was there as well - she suffered minor burns on her hands while dousing flames.
The day was arranged by the Fire Department and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, and it served as a hands-on lobbying effort.
For instance, politicians had to carry and set up a ladder to a third-story window with four people - the industry standard. The Philadelphia Fire Department often has only three firefighters for the job because of budget constraints.
The lesson? The life of a firefighter isn't easy. "It's hard because you're constantly being educated. It's hard physically, and it's hard mentally," said O'Brien, who spent the day with Nutter.
While fighting back flames inside the "hood" room, O'Brien went without air for nearly a minute because he had not correctly connected his breathing apparatus. He came out looking like a boiled lobster.
"I came out of there with a lot of respect for what those guys do," O'Brien said. "You can never replace the human element in what they do."
Nutter said he would meet with cabinet members next week to open up city departments to policymakers, journalists and members of the public in a similar eye-opening experience.
"It was a physical day, and it was a long day," said Brian McBride, president of IAFF Local 22. "It will certainly help us in the future as he better understands the jobs and the services we provide."
Nutter scored big points with the union, arriving with others at 7:30 a.m. and staying past 4 in the afternoon.
"I think the firefighters were deeply impressed by his commitment of time and his obvious investment in what they do and how they do it," said Nan Lassen, attorney for Local 22.