Firefighters battle controlled blaze to gain valuable training

The exercise began around 1:30 this afternoon and was continuing on as of 3:30 p.m. Commanders used an old, unoccupied house on 119 Avenue just off of Eighth Street to give their crews a rare opportunity to respond to a house fire in its early stages.

"What we're trying to simulate is an early in-fire, so we have one room roaring, but it hasn't yet extended to the rest of the building," said deputy fire chief Bob Fulton, who along with one of his captains, was overseeing the exercise. "If we can get in early and get a real strong hit on it, and then vent it out, we can limit the damage and save the homeowner a lot of grief and save the insurance company a pile of money."

"We don't get many house fires that are at this state, so if we can give them this practice, when the real incident happens they will be better prepared," he added.

As the training exercise moved along, firefighters were challenged with a scenario where the house was actually completely engulfed in flames. Fulton said at that point, firefighters would generally move into "defensive operations," where they would attempt to limit exposure to other nearby structures – in this exercise, a house only a few metres away – by keeping them cool with water, while allowing the engulfed structure to collapse in on itself.

There were 10 firefighters taking part in the exercise, with rotating team leaders for each scenerio.

"The real advantage to this is we can give our up-and-coming officers some opportunities to practice their command skills," said the deputy fire chief. "They've been at the firefighting business for a few years, but to step from the hands-on, focused on whatever your officer has given you, to stepping back and going, 'Okay, this is my scene, how do I want the fire fought, how do I make sure my guys don't get hurt.'"

He said there are many factors involved in responding to a fire, but generally, he was looking for his crews to, first of all, get the big picture and see what is going on, and then to focus in on their particular role. Generally, firefighters will work in teams of two, he added.
"There are different roles in actually attacking the fire. For instance, if a guy goes in with a nozzle, his focus is what he's doing with the water and with the nozzle, because you can set certain patterns and certain pressures. The guy behind him is assisting him on that, keeping the line controlled, but also giving him the bigger picture, because if you get tunnel vision, you could be focusing on a little fire here and then something comes up either over top or behind you."

Fulton said even experienced firefighters never stop learning different scenarios and how to respond.

"There are so many things built into the training, it takes a couple years just to get the basic training. Over the years you learn all of the different techniques, and you learn to recognize what the fire is actually doing, because that in itself will dictate how you act."

He added the department just hired a new dispatcher, so this was important training for her as well.

This is the second time in thee past few weeks a live-fire training exercise was conducted at that location. Fulton said the last exercise involved auxiliary firefighters and was focused more on response techniques, whereas this exercise presented more complicated problems and was focused on giving his firefighters opportunities to take the lead.