Monday, January 25, 2010:
Today’s lecture started off with a free-wheeling discussion about some of the major considerations for conducting a search inside a large building. Up until now, our search and rescue evolutions had been confined to small buildings – the burn building, the Hennepin Tech trailer, and the Sherburne Avenue four-plex. Sherburne had been complex because of the small rooms, heavy compartmentation, and the thick smoke. Today’s search would be conducted in another donated structure: a 2-story commercial warehouse/office building at the Rock-Tenn corporation in Saint Paul.
Rock-Tenn is a cardboard recycling industrial complex that also produces paper and card stock products. I’ve been inside the production plant at a 2-alarm fire there in early 2008, and was amazed that ANYONE could find their way out of that structure! Catwalks, ladders, machinery, giant rolls of paper, and little offices tucked in little nooks and crannies seemingly wherever there was room between piping, elevators and hoists, forklifts, and boxes of both raw and finished products. It was a nightmare! The building WE were going to use today was far less complex, but still capable of posing some significant search challenges. Hugging the wall and doing a “right-hand” or “left-hand” search in the drill tower or burn building was one thing; sweeping across a large cafeteria or warehouse floor was quite another. How do you conduct a thorough search of a large area while still ensuring you can find your way back outside and all the while maintaining your orientation within the building and in relation to the rest of your crew? Well, that was the focus of today’s training.
The class and the instructors addressed some of the main concerns we had about large area searches, including: air management, radio traffic, maintaining orientation and crew integrity, lack of water supplies/long hose lays to the interior, apparatus staging, safety and accountability for firefighters, command organization, and firefighter judgment. This last item included self-awareness, monitoring your own mental and physical status, and realizing that in a smoke-filled room, you have incredibly limited perspective of what’s going on in the REST of the building. It was a sobering discussion after our experience at the Sherburne Avenue building last week, where an air management incident resulted in a true emergency where someone could have been seriously hurt.
We conducted an After Action Review of the Sherburne exercise today as well, and discussed air management; the importance of crew communications and maintaining physical/visual/audio contact with other members of a search team; the need for clear, concise, communications (we suffered from a lot of radio congestion on Friday); and the typical chaos that results on a fireground when 12-16 firefighters and multiple hose lines arrive at the scene of a fire and attempt to get through the front door and to the seat of the fire all at the same time. The resulting mess (technically known as a “cluster”) usually sorts itself out quickly, but not always. So, we critiqued the Sherburne Smokehouse evolutions to review what “went right” and what “we could do better on in the future”…..we’d need to apply some of the lessons learned to today’s larger, far more complex search situations.
We also received a visit by the “B-Shift” Deputy Chief today, Chief Mark Mueller. We operate 3 firefighting shifts here in St. Paul: A, B, and C-Shifts. The Deputy Chief is the senior fire officer on duty for each 24 hour shift. The Assistant Chief, Fire Chief, and division heads are on 40-hour schedules, and on call 24/7 for major incidents – both on and off the fireground.