For Washington firefighters, practice makes perfect

Published 8:27 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Smoke was rising last week from the red building just east of Beaufort County Community College’s main campus. For three days, fires burned and were extinguished. Firefighters on all three shifts of Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS responded to the scene.

They were training for the real thing.

At Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS, 90 percent of the calls that come in are EMS calls, so personnel has plenty of on-the-job experience, according to A-Shift Battalion Chief Johnathan Hardin.

“The other 10 percent are fire calls, and these are the most dangerous to go to,” Hardin said.

Beaufort County is fortunate that not too many fires occur, but that good fortune is also why training in live-fire scenarios is so important, he said. “To be that good at fire, we actually have to do training. We have to keep our skills up.”

UPHILL BATTLE: Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS C-Shift firefighter climbs a ladder on his way into the burn facility last Wednesday as A-Shift Battalion Chief Johnathan Hardin looks on. The vent-enter-search drill had firefighters searching out and rescuing a “civilian” in heat and smoke.

While every firefighter has attended fire academy, continuing practice is imperative. Last week, the focus was on three drills: vent-enter-search, forcible entry and May Day drills, in which firefighters are searching for and rescuing another downed firefighter. The vent-enter-search drill, in which teams entered into the smoke-filled facility to search and retrieve a “civilian,” a life-sized dummy, was conducted in a variety of ways: using thermal imagers to identify where the victim was, incorporating ropes as guidelines so a firefighter can find his way out when there’s minimal vision, and left-to-right hand searches, used when the smoke is so thick there’s no vision at all.

“You can’t see your hand in front of your face. You’re literally keeping your hand on the wall in front of you to keep your orientation of the building,” Hardin said. “You don’t want that first time you’re in that environment where you can’t see your hand in front of your face, with the heat and the smoke, (to be) on a call. You want it to be in a training facility.”

Hardin said the big hit of the day was a forcible entry drill with live fire — high heat and low visibility, much like a situation in which a person is trapped by fire behind a locked hotel room door. During the training, Washington EMS Battalion Chief Doug Bissette pointed out a spread of temperature readouts inside the facility as the drills were being performed. Temperatures fluctuated near 250 degrees about three feet from the floor; near 600 degrees, at certain points, closer to the ceiling.

Hardin said having the burn building at BCCC has made a huge difference in the department’s ability to train in real-life scenarios.

“It’s good because years ago we’d be upstairs (simulating training) at the fire department, trying to black out our masks,” Hardin said. “We do a lot of forcible entry here at the station, but this was with smoke.”