January 28, 2010:
About half the class took the Minnesota State Firefighter II certification test today. This test is one of the final remaining tests for our recruit academy, yet another reminder that “we’re not done yet.” Failure could still result in dismissal from the academy. Man, that would stink to flunk out now!” But, we’ve heard stories of guys that “washed out” on the final day of class, or the next to the last day in the past…..NONE of us want to be “that guy!”
The Firefighter II test combined a 100 point written test and a 4-part practical exam. The practical test consisted of power tool use and maintenance, auto extrication, conducting a pre-fire survey of a building, and writing a report of a simulated structure fire in a vacant building. The practical portion was relatively “easy,” and all of us passed. We are still awaiting the results of the written portion, which was challenging and covered nearly the entire 37 chapter textbook.
The test took the entire morning. After lunch, we retuned to the donated structure at Rock-Tenn and conducted search and rescue exercises and live fire training. We walked through the building before the sessions began as part of an orientation for safety purposes. Man, was that building a maze of rooms! Meeting rooms, cafeterias, crawlspaces, warehouse floors, paint booths, office cubicles, and hallways. Quite frankly, I was “all turned around” before they even put the smoke into the building! Once again (for the hundredth time at least) I marveled at the incredible work that we expect our firefighters to do while conducting searches in these complex buildings.
I have been in other buildings on the Rock-Tenn campus – far more complex and confusing than this one – and there is seemingly NO WAY that you could find someone in amongst all the twists, turns, nooks, and crannies…..yet, our brothers and sisters enter those buildings, conduct those searches, find the victims, and – most of the time – find their way back outside safely. Today’s practice would help us build skills to do these searches quickly, effectively, and safely. The donated Rock-Tenn building was a complex building, and would require both large-scale search techniques and small room/hallway techniques. I was really looking forward to searching in this realistic setting!
The class split into two groups, and the group I was in had the opportunity to be the back up attack line and the “safety line crew / light off team.” The first evolution – where we were assigned the back up attack line – also turned into a search and rescue operation for three of us (we had 5 in my group), because while the nozzle man and back up stayed with the hose line, 3 of us broke off to help search large areas of the first floor. Smoke was light in the areas we searched, and we were able to duck-walk or move in a stooped posture to quickly cover the area. We searched fast and covered the rooms visually for the most part, our flashlight beams easily penetrating the dark interior of the building and the light smoke haze. We found and rescued a “hose dummy victim” from underneath a countertop/sink in a corner of a first floor room.
For the second evolution, my classmates Andy and Bernie, myself, and Captain Deno entered the structure to build a fire for the attack teams, and then we crouched nearby to watch the fire build, the smoke “layer,” and the attack teams come in for extinguishment. I love these opportunities to watch fire behavior “up close!” They really are a great opportunity to see how the smoke moves towards the fire as it’s building, and away from the fire once ventilation is started. Experiencing the sights and sounds of a fire burning close by, feeling the heat build up on your shoulders, legs, neck (through our hoods, of course), and through our gloved hands really gives us a great sense of how fire behaves, how interior conditions change, and how protective our personal protective equipment really is. Captain Deno kept up a nearly uninterrupted monologue, pointing out various observations of the fire, smoke, and heat, and drawing our attention to various hazards – like the light fixtures that came crashing down around the attack team as they brought the fire under control – and the point at which the plastic light switch covers melted in the extreme heat.