Crews battle blaze during interagency fire training
Cedar Fort volunteer firefighter Misty Smith gets instruction from Jeremy Craft, right, of the Provo Fire Department, during an inter-department practice fire at the Utah Fire and Rescue Academy in Provo on Thursday, April 19, 2012. SPENSER HEAPS/Daily Herald
Ribbons of smoke unfurl from a two-story structure Thursday morning in west Provo, dispersing over a nearby creek and mingling with the steely sky. Within minutes, a bright red Provo fire engine roars up beside the building and a firefighter tosses a heavy yellow hose toward a hydrant. Then another engine arrives, this time a white truck from Springville, followed by others from Orem and Cedar Fort. Soon, crews are charging into the building and dousing the blaze inside.
But while the area was quickly swarmed by crews, the blaze wasn't a four-alarm fire causing millions of dollars in damages. Instead, it was an interagency live-fire exercise for firefighters from around Utah County.
While crews were still pulling hoses and prying at doors, Provo battalion chief Jeremy Craft stepped aside and explained that the exercise involved teams from four different cities. It was the first activity of its kind, Craft said, and was designed to foster inter-department cooperation and efficiency.
"Teamwork helps us achieve those goals," Craft said, adding that during actual structure fires crews from different cities routinely work together.
Moments later Craft returned to the fire fight. Over the course of several hours, crews lit three fires in the structure, which was made of four shipping containers stacked two-by-two. The first two fires were designed to give crews experience with typical structure blazes, while the third was organized to simulate a basement fire.
But while the exercises were simulations of real-world fires, the flames were real. Between the exercises, Craft pointed to piles of hay-like material that crews dragged inside the structure and ignited. As it burned, it smelled sweet like a campfire.
Craft went on to say that the same type of event is scheduled to happen twice a month in the future. Different exercises will teach different types of firefighting tactics in various settings. Thursday's exercise was held at UVU's Provo Fire and Rescue Academy, immediately east of the Provo Airport.
"We're really grateful to the college for letting us use their facility," Craft said.
He explained that the skills the crews were learning were valuable. Because of improved education and safety measures, structure fires are becoming less common, Craft said. That leaves firefighters with fewer opportunities to hone their skills in live-fire situations. By training together, Craft said, firefighters get experience while also learning each other's terminology and how to work under various commanders.
Between fires Thursday, Cedar Fort assistant fire chief Anthony Homen agreed with Craft about the importance of the interagency training. He explained that the Cedar Fort fire department is staffed by volunteers, so the chance to train with actual fire was a unique opportunity that should be repeated often.
"As long as firefighters need training we should be doing this," Homen said.
As Homen, Craft and others finished each fire Thursday, they gathered under a nearby shelter to discuss the exercise. The crews discussed getting through the building, communication and other topics before heading back to their trucks to begin again. As Craft walked away from the discussion, he said he looked forward to other firefighters in Utah County getting similar training and mentioned that the first attempt at an interagency event was a success.
"I think it's gone really well," Craft said.
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