Friday, May 22, 2009

Tactical Evolution #1

We're finally into our last few training sessions, and all real "training" is in the past. Now we're starting our first tactical evolution, a situation where the coaches setup a scenario as realistically as possible and have the recruits come in to deal with it as best they can.

Radio: "Commercial Structure Fire, Roger I Wilson Memorial Drive. Engine 1301, Engine 701, Tanker 105, Tanker 505, Squad 104, Medic 231; Commercial Structure Fire, Roger I Wilson Memorial Drive. Engine 1301, Engine 701, Tanker 105, Tanker 505, Squad 104, Medic 231; Commercial Structure Fire, Roger I Wilson Memorial Drive, cross streets of East County Road and East Prathersville Road. Timeout 18:33 KLK 578 KJY 848

Here we go. This is the very first time that we aren't involved in a closely supervised "tactic", the recruit class as a whole is just going to show up to this "incident" in waves and mitigate it as best we can.

"Columbia from Engine 1301"

"Engine 1301, go ahead"

"Engine 1301 is responding, times 2"

We're all parked on the far side of the training center, waiting for our chance to respond in, a coach at the front of the line doing traffic duty making sure we don't all show up at once.

For this scenario I'm a "POV", that is, I'm not coming on an apparatus from the station, I was just out around town when the call came in and I'm driving there in my car to help out. There's no real way to know what task you'll be taking care of until you show up.

The radio crackles again

"Columbia from Engine 701"

"Engine 701, go ahead"

"Engine 701 is responding, times 2"

I watch as the recruits in Engine 1301 pull around the last corner in their route and stop in front of the burn building, our commercial structure fire for the evening. I can hear the airbrake deploy as Jones (the recruit assigned as the operator) radios in his size up.

"Columbia, Engine 1301"

"Engine 1301, go ahead"

"Engine 1301 is on the scene. Got a....2 story....commercial structure...nothing showing. Make this Training Center command"

I'm too far away to see exactly what they're doing as they setup to go inside, but I've got too much to think about anyway. Being a POV is dangerous, for a host of reasons. The adrenaline can cause you to drive more erratically than you should, and personal vehicles don't draw attention the way fire trucks do, so accidents can happen easily if you are not serious about being careful. Then, once you've arrived, you're basically putting your gear on in a roadway, where it's too easy to get hit by passing traffic, distracted by the large incident ahead. Luckily in the safety of the training center that risk is mitigated, but you have to build habits the right way by always behaving as though you're in a real incident, on a real highway, with real danger.

Upon receiving the signal from our traffic coach, I drive off around the loop to report in to the fireground. As we were trained, I stop about 150' from the incident, put on my flashers, and throw my keys on the floorboard (so others can move it later if need be). Grabbing my gear bag out of the trunk, I toss it on the ground a little off the roadway and tear it open, keeping my head up watching for oncoming traffic. After 5 months of practice, the movements come naturally. Right boot, left boot, pants up, right suspender, left suspender...before I know it I have all my bunker gear on and I'm walking as fast as I can towards the command post.

My heart is already pounding, not from exertion but from excitement. Even though I know this isn't a real incident, there IS a real fire in there, and the adrenaline kicks in all the same.

Grabbing the tag off my helmet, I hand it to the incident commander (recruit Stephenson in this case), who tells me to go pack up and standby for assignment. Straining to show the watching officers some professionalism, I repeat my orders verbatim out loud, and make for the rear compartment of the attack engine where I can get myself an airpack.

This used to be a complicated process; no more. Although repetition isn't fun, it does it's job, and this is coming naturally. I yank the cord securing the pack in place, pull it off the rack, check to make sure it's full, open the bottle to pressurize the system (noting the correct sequence of sounds as the vibra-alert engages and the PASS system comes online), and throw the pack over my head and onto my shoulders. Walking back towards command, I pull all the straps tight against my body and check my face piece to make sure I'll have a good seal once I connect the airpack and start flowing oxygen.

Now the only question is what I'll be asked to do. On a large fire attack, there are many options. You need crews to search the building for victims, crews to attack the fire with hose lines, crews to wait by the doors to go in and help if something goes wrong.

The Incident commander grabs a group of 4 of us and pulls us towards him.

Stephenson (IC): "This will be Crew Vizitei, I need pitched roof ventilation, side 4"

Me: "Crew Vizitei will perform pitched roof ventilation, side 4"

Stephenson: "Affirmative!"

That's a tough tactic. Basically, he wants a hole cut in the roof, which is on a slant. It might seem like this is the "easy" work, since you aren't inside actually attacking the fire. All I can say is, you have to have attempted this to really appreciate how exhausting it can be. My job wasn't going to be bad - by designating us as "Crew Vizitei", he was indicating that I (Vizitei) would be the crew leader. My primary job would be to help the crew reach the roof, and stay in radio contact with command. It's the saw man who gets the tough job as he has to wield a chainsaw while standing precariously on a combination of ladders and axes, and then clear the hole he's made with a long and heavy pike pole. I know that whichever crewmember I assign that task is going to be beat afterward.

Tough, though, is what we signed up for. Handing out assignments to the other three crewmembers (one to wield the saw, one to support him on the roof with an axe, and one to hold the ladder), we go to work. It takes about 90 seconds to get the necessary equipment assembled at our climbing point, which is the easy part, and then the ladder is raised up against the roof and it's time to get started. My 2 roof crewmen are already climbing while I perform the necessary radio traffic to let the commander know we're starting:

"Command from Crew Vizitei"

"Crew Vizitei, this is Command

"Command, Crew Vizitei is beginning Pitched Roof Ventilation, Side 4"

"Crew Vizitei, beginning pitched roof ventilation, side 4"


I snap my regluator into my facepiece, blinking as the first puff of air pressurizes the mask, grab an axe from the ground, and start my climb just as the 2nd of my crewmates disappears up over the lip of the roof.

Once at the top, I can see my guys are doing well so far. They've got the roof ladder secured over the peak of the roof, giving them a good place to stand, and the saw man already has his chainsaw in hand and running, just waiting for the tool man to give him a foot hold.

Handing the tool man the pick-headed axe, I remain on the ladder to watch, and to be available if something goes wrong. The tool man watches as the saw man sticks his foot out onto the roof showing where he wants to step. Then the saw man pulls his leg back to the ladder as the tool man swings high with the pick head of the axe, digging it deep into the roof to give the saw man a place to put his foot securely.

Then the cutting begins. I have nothing but sympathy for the guy doing that work, but he's doing great. After seven long cuts, a rectangle has been outlined in the roof, just waiting to be breached. The saw is handed back down to me on the ladder as the saw man picks up his pike pole and starts beating and tearing, opening the hole and digging down through the attic to breach the ceiling. Once it's good and open, we all make our way back down quickly and disconnect our face pieces to breathe fresh air again. Grabbing my radio clipped to my shoulder, I report back:

"Command from Crew Vizitei"

"Crew Vizitei, this is Command

"Command, Crew Vizitei has completed Pitched Roof Ventilation, Side 4. We are off the roof and PAR."

"Crew Vizitei, completed pitched roof ventilation, side 4, off the roof and PAR"


"Rehab your bottles and check in with command"


Guess that means we aren't getting a break. The four of us drop our tools in the staging area and make our way to the air truck where we exchange our depleted air tanks for full ones. Arriving back at the command post, they don't waste any time putting us back in the building.

Stephenson:"I need secondary searches on both floors. Split into two crews of two, Vizitei, you take Brandow and search the first floor. You other two, second story"

Me:"Crew Vizitei will enter structure side 1, and perform Secondary Search, first floor."

This is a bit of a break for us. Secondary search means that the primary team has already gone through looking for victims. We're going in to make sure they didn't miss anyone. Because the fire attack has already been through this section of the building, there is no longer any fire, and all the windows are open, so we have clear visibility and can walk around comfortably. It's just a matter of being thorough, making sure no one is trapped or hiding.

We're in and back out in about 5 minutes, just in time to hear the call for help come over the radio.

"Command, there IS fire extension in the attic. We cannot make attack! Hose is stuck in the stairwell, we need assistance."

The crew checking the attic has their hose caught up in 2 flights of stairs, which is a tough haul. Now they need to move farther in to stop the fire from coming back from the attic and undoing all our work, and they can't get in there to do it. The four of us closest to the door immediately are tasked with getting their hose up the stairs, and we charge in to help.

Hoses are extremely important to firefighting, as any observer could tell you. What most observers might not realize is just how heavy one of those hand-lines is. This is not a garden hose you're pulling. The hose is thick, and when full of water it's heavy and inflexible. It does indeed take all four of us spread out along the line to move that hose around the corners and up the stairs so that our buddies on the attack crew can get far enough into the attic to get their job done.

But they do it. All the victims are out and all the fire is extinguished, all that's left is chugging water and reloading all the equipment. Evolution #1 is a success. Time to reset everything and go again.

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