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Water shuttle training brings together Beaufort County departments

Fifteen years ago, a terrible fire tore through a 6,000 square-foot home in Pamlico Plantation. For the firefighters responding to the blaze, Bunyan Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wes Williams said the event was “a water supply nightmare.”

“It was a narrow, one-way street and a dead end,” Williams said. “It woke us up to want to do better and not to get in that situation again.”

Monday evening, 75 firefighters representing 10 local departments took part in a massive training in Washington to help prepare for one of firefighting’s worst-case scenarios — a serious fire with no static water source nearby, such as a hydrant or a body of water, to help fight it.

The solution to that situation is a water shuttle, an operation that is simple in theory, but complex in practice. With one or more trucks keeping a continuous flow of water on the fire, trucks set up at fill sites continuously suck up water. Between the two, trucks acting as shuttles quickly fill up at the fill site then drive back to the fire, dumping water into large freestanding pools.

CONSTANT PRESSURE: With a goal of maintain a continuous flow of 1,200 gallons per minute, local firefighters were able to sustain 1,500 gallons per minute during Monday’s water shuttle training, topping out at 1,800. The purpose of the multi-agency training was to practice bringing water from a fill site to the scene of a fire. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

The goal of the exercise Monday night was to maintain a constant flow of 1,200 gallons per minute. With fill sites at Jacks Creek, Havens Garden and Main Street, firefighters spent about three hours filling trucks and hauling water to a dump site behind the defunct Sampson Shirt Factory on North Brown Street.

“We were able to sustain 1,500 gallons per minute, uninterrupted,” Williams said. “We actually peaked out at 1,800, but we didn’t do 1,800 very long, because it was getting late.”

Once the departments got into their rhythm, the operation moved, in Williams’ words, “like a coordinated dance,” maintaining a continuous water flow that would be critical during a real emergency. By bringing together the various departments, Williams hopes they will all be better prepared if and when that day comes.

“The only way we can work smoothly together is if we train together, like we did last night,” Williams said on Tuesday. “We learned what each other’s capabilities were and what type of equipment we have.”

Trainings such as the operation Monday night can also help departments lower their insurance ratings, which ultimately allows homeowners to pay a lower rate in insuring their properties.

PUMP IT UP: From water source to pool to pump, every drop counts and every position helped keep the water flowing. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

“Water supply is kind of a passion of mine,” said Williams, who helped coordinate the event. “A lot of fire instructors kind of pick a topic they do well, and water supply is one I’ve always enjoyed learning about and then sharing.”

From an emergency management standpoint, Beaufort County Director of Emergency Services Carnie Hedgepeth says multi-agency trainings like Monday’s help build a stronger fire service overall.

“You had a diverse group of paid and volunteer firefighters from all over the county, with various levels of experience, certifications and varying equipment types,” Hedgepeth said. “But they all have one thing in common — they’re public servants. We keep public service as our main goal, and everybody is moving in the same direction. Every department was really excited about coming and working together. There really is not a district line when it comes to taking care of the business we’ve been asked to do.”