Wind Speed: 28 knots
Conditions: Still farging windy
I think I've mentioned that in addition to my normal job, I'm also on several emergency response teams. Every Thursday one of them has a training session. This past Thursday was fire team. So, on Thursday afternoon we played darts... in full bunker gear and SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus). The idea of the exercise was to get comfortable in the outfit and realize how much air we actually have in that tank. My cricket score was atrocious with those gloves on, but my air tank outlasted everyone else's; it took me an hour to breathe a little more than half of it. Of course, when we're in a drill, crouching and carrying and dragging and sucking in huge mouthfuls of air, the tank will only last 20 minutes or so before going into alarm, which means about five minutes left. Once a week we don and doff (yup, those are words) our bunker gear to check it all out and maintain our speedy response time. The standard is to be bunker'd up and on air in under two minutes. It looks like this (sped up to 4x for your viewing convenience):
So, right now I hope you're concerned. I mean, they're not really going to send me rushing into a burning building with axe and extinguisher are they? Oh yes they are...
If the fire is reasonably small, manageable, we'll probably go in to save a building. If someone is unaccounted for, we're definitely going in there to save a soul. But we are not unprepared. We had a week of professional training before coming here, and we continue to train and drill through the season.
The Arvada Fire Academy, near Denver, takes us from completely green rookies, to amateur smokeys. We learn the bunker and SCBA gear, extinguishers and hoses, and all the basic tactics for entry, search and recovery. Then we play with fire. We start small and outside with extinguishers. Last year, Brack took a great shot of me hitting a nice diesel blaze:
The Academy has a burn house that is basically a two story brick shell with nothing in it but coal-black smoke-stained walls. We practice methods for searching and clearing areas, crouching as if there were smoke. Then we do it again, blindfolded. It's amazing how a familiar building can turn into a totally claustrophobic labyrinth. Then, to add to the phobia, we go through "the maze". This is a building the size of a shed, with three levels to crawl through. There is rarely room to sit up, let alone stand. There are spongy floors, ramps, hanging wires, ladders, holes in the floor, stairs, miniature doors, two-by-fours blocking the path so you have to crawl through on your side with your air tank practically underneath you. It's a total nightmare. We do it blindfolded. This is to simulate an absolute worst-case scenario. People have torn off their masks in freak-out mode. Some of us think it's fun; like a grown-up jungle gym. No pictures, sorry.
Next, we light the burn house up and let it fill with smoke. We drill some more, getting comfortable with the fire, but not too comfortable. Black smoke pours out of the doors and windows. We go in:
Inside, there are about three feet of visible space near the floor. The upper half of the room is black and hot, forcing us to crawl on our knees. The fire is surprisingly small for the amount of heat and smoke it produces; it is a shopping cart full of wood and straw. We practice moving hoses around and using extinguishers. We sweat bullets.
Next is the propane tank. Don't worry, it's not a real propane tank, but it's been plumbed with gas to look and act like one.
We line up with two hoses and slowly approach the blaze. When it gets hot enough, a spout of whistling fire spews from the top with the noise of a freight train. It's a little unnerving.
Ok, a lot unnerving. But, we continue to approach, our hose nozzles switched to fan, providing a barrier between us and the fire.
Oh yeah, that's me. I'm a fireman.
We take a few short steps closer from where we are in this picture. With the flames at bay, some brave fool can get in there and turn the valve. Not it. I'll keep the nozzle, a-thank-you-very-much.
It's an interesting exercise, but the reality is, if we had anything like this occur on station, as long as no one was in danger, we'd let it burn and focus on protecting any adjacent structures with water.
This Thursday is GSAR training. I think. Or is it OSAR. I don't know. I am seeming toasty, RaJa. Weird.