It was an event a whole year in the making. Participating Key Peninsula Fire Department personnel, both career and volunteer firefighters, gathered Jan. 31 at Station 47 in Home to review the plan for a live-fire training exercise before proceeding to the site of a two-bedroom mobile home they would burn to the ground before day’s end.
Roughly 40 people were on site, including several invited spectators kept at a safe distance, on what turned out to be a cold, rainy day.
KPFD Public Information Officer Anne Nesbit said the owner of the property, located on Wright-Bliss Road north of SR-302, contacted the department a little over a year ago saying he had a structure he wanted to donate for a burn. There are certain parameters to make that acceptable and this one met those benchmarks.
“We’ve had access to this house, which has been a wonderful search prop and training prop to run scenarios and try out new theories, but today we’re going to add that live fire component and put together all those pieces that we’ve been practicing over the last year,” Nesbit said.
Every aspect of the training mission was planned and choreographed to make the most of the acquired structure for training. It maximized the opportunity for firefighters to experience entering a house filled with smoke so thick they couldn’t see while performing searches to locate and rescue potential occupants, and locate and extinguish the fire.
“Chief Morrow has introduced some new methodology, with ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ teams,” said Captain Dale Heidal of the Wauna station. “It’s totally new to us so we’re really trying to dial that in. Having a live fire with all these teams participating –– it’s going to be great.”
At the scene, following a quick walk through of the structure and a final safety briefing, the plan to complete four separate training evolutions, or stages, went into action.
Lt. Nate Jean led the first evolution. Jean recently trained six new hires — most of whom came up through the KPFD volunteer program — in the department’s first in-house academy.
“These guys have been trained on ‘the’ way to do things,” Nesbit said. “Today they are going to show people everything that they learned. Nate has been really key in this; he went out, got the education and has the knowledge, but more importantly he bought it back and shared it.
“These are his new disciples and they will go forth and raise the bar,” she said. “This is cutting-edge stuff.”
Each evolution consisted of a three-member fire attack team; an inside team and an outside team. After each evolution the team made sure everyone who went in came out safely, debriefed and reset for the next run.
To simulate the techniques used to pry open and break down locked doors, the department brought a metal door prop used in regular drills so that each team could have the full experience. To create smoke-filled conditions, a burn barrel located outside the building was used to pump smoke inside. There was a “victim prop” weighing 180 pounds for the team to find and rescue. Fires were ignited inside the various rooms to be found and extinguished in each team evolution.
Outside, the eyes of firefighters were focused on the nature of and behavior of the smoke, using volume and color to help indicate what was happening inside the building and where.
“The science of firefighting and the equipment has improved considerably over the years. We’re learning a more aggressive form of firefighting, pushing the envelope and doing more while doing it safely,” Nesbit said.
“I’ve been on house fires but never an acquired structure training burn. It’s such a great opportunity and I hope we can do more,” firefighter Evan Aas said. “Chief Morrow has made a night and day difference here; he gets things done.”
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