When firefighters practice, something’s going to get damaged.
So when the Albion Fire Department set up a training session on October 22, they went to a place where it’s okay to do damage: The Auburn Fire Department’s live burn training facility. It’s one of the few places in the area designed to be set on fire repeatedly, so firefighters can face lifelike conditions in a reasonably safe environment.
There was a time when firefighters trained little, if at all – they simply mounted the truck for their first call and were thrown into the chaos of a burning building. Later, fire departments began using acquired structures: homes and other older buildings earmarked for demolition, in which several fires would be set before they were “let go” to be burned to the ground. After several tragic training fires in which rookies were injured or killed, rules for live fire training were tightened so much that acquired structures were almost impossible to make safe enough to meet state and federal requirements.
The result was facilities like the one in Auburn, which has been designated a regional training center by the state Department of Homeland Security. The live fire training building is a series of heavy metal boxes, set together and equipped with inner and outer stairways, windows and doors, to portray real life building challenges. Heat sensors allow instructors to monitor the temperature inside, and special ventilation systems permit them to quickly remove smoke in case of an emergency.
Auburn firefighters estimated the cost of the burn building at about $60,000, but they quickly added that countless man-hours were spent by the firefighters, putting the building and its systems together from scratch.
Now fires can be set over and over again, without the collapse risk that makes acquires structures so dangerous. On October 22 Albion firefighters piled into three of their trucks, brought in neighboring departments to cover their territory in case a real fire broke out, and headed over to take advantage of the opportunity.
The volunteers went through four evolutions, splitting into three teams: search and rescue, fire attack, and backup crew. For four hours they entered the smoke filled building, encountering real fires complete with extreme heat, and searching in zero visibility for a rescue mannequin that had to be dragged out. It was an experience that couldn’t be repeated in the classroom, or even in a normal building filled with training smoke that’s cool and safe to breathe.
The firefighters hope to go back at least once a year in addition to the regular training evolutions they hold in Albion, so they can be prepared to face the real thing when the time comes.
After this training the fire department's digital camera flash wouldn't work anymore ... not because of the conditions inside, but because the rain outside got into its electronics.
The water stream is directed at the ceiling to keep the room temperature down, avoiding a "flashover" -- when the entire room reaches its ignition temperature, and flames fill the space down to floor level within seconds.
I took maybe forty or fifty pictures -- half a dozen were clear enough to make out anything but a wall of dense smoke. In this case, the room is illuminated by firefighters' flashlights.
Fire attack video.
This is what going into a burning building really looks like ...