I have no inclination to ever be a firefighter (nothing inside of me yearns to run into a burning building or run around a building spraying water – I’m just not that heroic), however, I am fascinated by the process and the men and women who do this every day and call it “part of the job”.
A few months ago, I delivered a set of Salamander manual accountability boards at the Arkansas Fire Training Academy to be used as part of the rookie’s trainings. After following up with my contact a few weeks later, he invited me to attend one of the training academy’s “Night Burns”.
So, I graciously accepted the invitation to attend a “night burn,” not fully knowing what I was getting myself into. Now, this was my third or fourth trip to the AFTA. In a previous trip, I was given a tour of the site and viewed the inside of several of the buildings where the students practice hands on fire suppression.
On Tuesday, when I arrived at the Fire Training Academy, my contact first took me to try on turnout gear (boots, pants, jacket, mask, gloves).
This particular night burn was the first time that this group had been exposed to fire suppression at the academy. They had endured 3 weeks of classroom training before hand, but had not been exposed to the live elements.
The training took place in the building known as “Rubow Fix-It”. This building has about 6 rooms, each with a metal rack that looks like bunk beds. Each of these racks had a pile of hay on top to burn.
Just after 6:15, while I was at the building with the other instructors and the students were at the fire station, the radio call was placed stating that there was a fire with possible victims in the building. Shortly thereafter, the fire truck drove the short distance to the building and began connecting the hoses to the nearest fire hydrant.
The firefighter rookies were broken off into pairs, with the exception of three who were given the tasks of: Operations, Incident Command, and Driver. During the incident, one pair would enter the building at a time with the objective of completing fire suppression. Inside of the building, two instructors were there to educate the rookies and supervise the situation; my role was to simply observe.
With the first rack engulfed in flames, two of the rookies came crawling in the room on their knees; the first pulling the fire hose, the second with a hook. As I stood in the corner, watching and listening, I was most surprised to learn firsthand one important fact: I couldn’t see anything and I was 6 feet away from the flames! How could firefighters possibly see their task? No wonder there are so many injuries! Fortunately, the instructors provided me with a thermal imaging camera (TIC) so that I could see what was going on from a safe distance.
Once the pair of students extinguished the fire, they then returned to the safety officer, who moved them from the assignment back to staging.
After the fourth set of students completed their fire suppression (at this point I had been in the building for about 30 minutes), I exited the building with them so that I could watch the safety officer and incident commander conduct accountability. It was quite difficult to see what was going on completely but, it was fascinating to watch all of the rookies communicate with each other. Every task was neatly planned and executed very well.
With the completion of the incident, all of the students and instructors returned to the fire station to debrief and discuss what actions they will be able to improve before their next hands on assignment.