Search and rescue was the focus of Thursday night’s Citizens Fire Academy course. Class members went through the same procedures as firefighters.
“I loved it,” said class member Rachel Hiner. “I learned an 8-year-old is a lot heavier than I thought they were, and it’s hard for firefighters to see in the dark.”
Hiner and fellow class member Merissa Chapman teamed up to search a dark room for anyone in need of rescue, while other class members watched via a thermal imaging camera. The device is used by the department to locate heat signatures through smoke, darkness, or other permeable barriers.
The scenario was a structure fire and class members, in teams of two, were asked to wear most of the turnout gear used by the department, including coat, pants, breathing apparatus and helmet.
“We had to simulate a smoke filled room and navigate around the room on our knees in order to find anyone that needed help,” said Chapman. “It was a lot of fun, but we couldn’t see anything. I tried to turn around and slipped right onto my butt.”
While Hiner and Chapman searched, found and rescued a vest that weighed 80 pounds, other teams found stuffed animals and lighter vests.
Training Officer Capt. Phil Mitchell says this is similar to the situation facing firefighters during a fire, without the danger to themselves or to others.
“There is a lot of made-for-television romanticizing that goes on in television shows about firefighters,” said Mitchell. “What you experienced tonight is just a small taste of what really happens during a fire. Along with the physical stress, we have to deal with the emotional stress of the job.”
During the fire that destroyed City Cafe, hoses were lost, one thermal imaging camera was destroyed and three firefighters were almost killed when the roof collapsed just seconds before they were pulled from the structure.
When called to a structure fire, firefighters first access the outside of the house looking for signs that could convey valuable information about the person or persons living at the residence. Are there toys in the yard? Is there a wheelchair ramp? Any vehicles in the driveway? Are there any kennels or dog houses?
The actual search and rescue within the structure consists of two phases — a preliminary search that is a quick sweep through the structure and a secondary one that is a much more in-depth search.
Upon entering a burning structure, firefighters typically perform a left-hand or right-hand search. Firefighters will keep the wall to their left or right side as they go about the interior search. The search method assures the firefighter will eventually come out where he started.
Working in teams, firefighters can rapidly cover large areas. In low visibility, one firefighter may stay close to the wall while a second one extends out into a room using tools such as webbing, ropes or a thermal imager.
Mitchell says there is one thing that homeowners can do to help to aid firefighters.
“Prepare escape routes and a meeting place outside the home,” he said. “When we get there and the whole family has met out front at the large oak tree, we can focus on fire suppression and saving the property.”
Citizens Fire Academy sessions are offered by the McMinnville Fire Department as a way to inform and educate the public about departmental procedures, everyday activities and real-life situations facing firefighters.