Firefighters with Toledo’s Fire District 2, as well as Castle Rock’s Fire District 6, participated in live fire training Saturday outside Toledo. The building, donated to District 2, was allowed to burn to its foundation after the exercise concluded.
Fighting fires is no easy task, even if your only job is to make sure you’re available at all hours to jump behind the wheel of an engine. Those who venture into a burning building have it especially tough, and preparedness is crucial to making sure they can venture back alive.
It was with that spirit Lewis County Fire District 2, of Toledo, hosted a live fire drill on Saturday to remind experienced firefighters what it’s like confronting an actual blaze, and to inform newcomers what it takes to put their own safety on the line to help others.
“If something does happen, they don’t panic and their training kicks in,” said Captain Tracy Summers of the benefits of live fire training in the field, stating his district has had unique opportunities in recent years to be able to put in a lot of hours of such training.
He said, when a local community members have a building they want to destroy, they can call the fire district and donate the building for training purposes, as the end result of live fire training is usually an imploded structure strategically burnt to fall into its foundation. Summers said Toledo has had the benefit recently to be able to regularly train in such donated buildings, rather than travel to places such as North Bend, allowing them to locally fulfill the district’s yearly training requirements.
“We’ve been fortunate here,” he said, stating some donations, such as that of a building by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe after their acquisition of St. Mary’s Mission, are not in need of immediate demolition and can be used multiple times for various rescue and firefighting exercises.
During a live fire training event, Summers said the exercise begins with securing the building to control how the smoke and flames travel from room to room, as well as out of the building. Plywood is placed over the windows, while still allowing gaps at the bottom, and drywall is sometimes hung to prevent the fire from spreading too rapidly.
Summers said, because of the need to keep a fire under control, his district is unable to make use of structures such as barns, trailers and manufactured homes, as flames may travel rapidly through these structures.
Piles of old pallets are then brought in to serve as fuel for the strategically-lit fires, which begin in single rooms for the initial exercise, then are lit in the center of the building and left to burn during the final demolition process. Summers said, in the midst of all this preparation and during the training, safety remains paramount, and measures such as having medics on hand during the event help ensure firefighters end the day safely.
“If somebody gets hurt, we can start immediate treatment and transport,” he said.
During Saturday’s training, more than a dozen firefighters were present, including four from Castle Rock’s Cowlitz County Fire District 6, which had been among the local district invited to attend the event. Teams of four or five were sent in at a time, in full SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) gear and carrying a full fire hose, to simulate the conditions of a real fire response.
Once inside, training officers explained how firefighters should pay attention to the behavior of the fire and smoke, how each was traveling and building as the fire progressed. These teams of individuals, said Summers, were allowed to enter into the burning building as many times as they felt were needed to observe the fire, with the demolition fire being started after all teams were done.
Gathered on a field near the building was a group of local families eagerly awaiting the “large flame and smoke column” expected when the house was burnt down, as they had been informed of the training in a release from the fire district. The release told them it would be unnecessary to call 911 to report the fire, as it was a controlled burn, and cautioned those worried about the affects of smoke on potential respiratory problems to call the fire district.
By the time building was involved in flames, firefighters gatherer for a traditional group shot in front of the building, then made sure the house was safely brought to the ground.
Summers said other training events are expected to begin later this year, including wildland fire training and another live fire exercise in a building on Sareault Rd., and said those interested in contributing such properties are free to call the fire district at (360) 864-2366.
Firefighters prepare equipment for live fire training, including hoses, protective suits and self-contained breathing apparatuses, or SCBAs. An SCBA operates much like a SCUBA tank, as a conveyor of oxygen, but is designed for fire rescue rather than underwater use.
Prior to training, District 2 Captain Tracy Summers (background, center) explains the expectations of the day to firefighters while standing next to one of the stacks of old pallets which will eventually be lit and used in training before burning the house down.