Day 38: FIRE!

Wednesday, January 6 (Day 38):  Today’s morning lectures including sessions on department administrative computer systems, on line vacation bidding, and preventing back injuries. I had to miss much of the morning due to a Fire Chief meeting...

On the second fire, our four-man team (Larry, Tony, Justin and me) served as the Back Up Team. We made our way into the building following the Attack Team towards the back of the ground floor to the stairwell leading to the basement. We were crawling along the left hand wall and discovered a fire smoldering behind some straw and cardboard stacked up in the room (the training fires use straw, pallets, and cardboard for fuel). The fire was unplanned – it had been started accidently by flames coming up a pipe chase from the basement, and we did a good job of finding and extinguishing that fire. We proceeded to the basement and went down the stairs, turning left at the bottom. It was pitch black, and all operations were conducted by feel and hearing only. I was on the bottom step of the stairs and Tony was half-way down the stairs, and I couldn’t even see a hint of him just 5 feet away. I don’t recall even seeing his flashlight beam. Almost immediately when I reached the bottom step, Larry, our nozzleman, found a fire victim about 6 feet ahead of me on the hose line. Tony and I carried the “victim” up the stairs and out the back door of the building.
Tony and I were sent back into the building by Chief Morehead (the Incident Commander for our practice burns today). Our mission was to search the second floor. We searched and opened windows for ventilation as we went, but we didn’t find any other victims before running low of air and having to exit the building. We had searched half the upstairs. 
It was an extremely rewarding evolution, and our instructors had high praise for the coordination and teamwork we showed in finding the unplanned fire and rescuing a victim from the basement! We were pumped! I felt very comfortable during the searches – relaxed and confident, and able to maintain my orientation in the smoke and control my breathing so as to conserve air.
Our crew was the Safety Team for fire 3, and Captain Deno did an awesome job of explaining fire behavior and growth as the fire built in intensity. We were able to experiment a bit more than we could in the confined spaces of the Fire Behavior Simulator Prop earlier in the academy: we took off a glove and felt the heat gradient from the floor (cool), up towards the ceiling (it got “hot” about 3 feet off the floor and really hot about 5 feet off the floor). We watched the smoke “mushroom” off the ceiling and come down the side walls of the room, stratifying in progressively thinner layers until it was just over our heads and very hot. Then we watched (fascinated) as the flames flowed across the ceiling of the burn room and “under” the top of the doorway into the room where we were waiting. That river of flowing flames is captivating to watch, but DEADLY HOT. The smoke at the ceiling is essentially poisonous, unburned fuel, and the flames licked across the ceiling consuming the fuel and seeking more oxygen and fuel in the room where we waited with the safety line. Temperature at the ceiling was about 800-900 degrees! Our turnout gear will protect us to about 300 degrees, so it’s critically important to STAY LOW! Most “interior work” is done be crawling, or at best “duck walking” or crouching. The closer your get to the fire, the closer you have to get to the floor. It’s no wonder that firefighters have bad knees after years on the job!  
We watched the Attack Team come down the basement stairs and attack the fire, then stood by as they used hydraulic ventilation to clear the room of smoke and heat. Hydraulic ventilation is performed by shooting water out of a window using a cone-shaped “fog” pattern (we adjust the hose nozzle to get this pattern). The cone of water flowing out the window “sucks” the smoke and heat along with it. The technique is a fast and efficient way to get the smoke out of a room, and Saint Paul fire crews often perform this maneuver as soon as the fire in a room is knocked down.
We finished off the day stowing equipment and draining out frozen hoses. My group assisted Training Officer Hawkins in loading up about 30 section of fire hose (50 feet each) and transporting them to a nearby Saint Paul Fire Station (Station 23 on Como Avenue, across from the State Fairgrounds), where we hoisted the hose up into the hose tower, where it would thaw, drain, and dry. We would go back in the morning to retrieve this hose for further training evolutions later in the week.
Day 38 was over, and I was tired but elated. It was a challenging day, and I learned some key lessons about team communications, maintaining orientation inside a smoky building, and getting more comfortable and relaxed inside a burning building. My awareness of heat conditions (sensing it through my turnout gear and gloves), watching how smoke behaved in various ventilation conditions, and using my sense of hearing to maintain team orientation were key lessons learned. 
We didn’t do any organized PT at the end of the day. The fire evolutions ran long, and it was already beyond class hours when we finished cleaning up from the afternoon’s practical training. I think most of us felt that we had already “done” our workout today. I had burned up 1500 calories during the 4 hours I worked in full turnouts. Personally, I was OK with missing PT!