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Hillsborough County Fla--Firefighters Do Extensive Search and Rescue Training..Safely

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  • Hillsborough County Fla--Firefighters Do Extensive Search and Rescue Training..Safely

    ST. Petersburg Times--Hillsborough

    Just blowing smoke

    The tension, like the crushing weight of the gear, is real. But the fire in these drills isn't.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 28, 2003

    SEFFNER - At 10 a.m. on a recent workday, an ominous call came over the emergency radio.

    "Engine 15! Respond to a report of a house fire at Broadway and Palm," the voice crackled. "Report of heavy smoke. Car in driveway. Someone may be inside."

    A few minutes later, four firefighters from Engine 15 opened the door of the house. It was dark and smoky inside, 90 degrees and rising. They dropped to their hands and knees, crawling and feeling the walls, the furniture, the garbage on the floor.

    They had 75 pounds of equipment strapped to their backs, 15-pound fire suits on their bodies and heavy helmets on their heads.

    Fortunately, there was no one trapped inside. And no fire. It was all for training.

    For eight weeks this summer, dozens of Hillsborough County firefighters are honing their search-and-rescue skills. They are using an old wooden house for the exercises - intended for demolition and donated to the fire department by Bill Collins, a local businessman - at the corner of Palm and Broadway.

    "In reality, these are the kinds of houses we go to every day," said Capt. Mike Benitez. "We're going to run this like a regular fire scene."

    The goal of the instructors is to try to make the mock fire as challenging as possible. Dry ice is pumped into the home to simulate smoke. Tape is placed over the firefighters' masks to diminish visibility. Assorted garbage is strewn on the floor, and inactive wires dangle from the ceiling. There is no light or air conditioning.

    Then there are the casualties: the firefighters are told a victim is inside one of the bedrooms. And at least one firefighter complicates the situation, suffering a mock heart attack or other problem.

    "It adds texture," said Clint Roberts, driver engineer with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

    Then the firefighters must evacuate victims, while instructors videotape the action on a thermal imaging camera.

    After the mock fire in the morning, the instructors discuss how the firefighters handled themselves and offer pointers on what could have been done better.

    Hillsborough Fire Rescue is about halfway through the training. Veteran firefighters as well as rookies are going through the smoky obstacle course.

    What is striking about the training - at least to a non-firefighter - is how methodical and slow the search and rescue process is.

    The firefighters stay in groups of four, holding onto a rope, called a lifeline, so they will not become separated from one another. All four act like a giant octopus, feeling everything in their path.

    "You don't miss one inch," said Clay Cunningham, a driver/engineer for Engine Co. 30 in Plant City. "You could miss one foot and miss the victim."

    The work is painstaking and chaotic.

    Smoke alarms ring unrelentingly, while a variety of devices attached to the firefighter also bleat and beep. One device blasts a warning if a firefighter is still for 20 minutes. Another rings loudly if the oxygen tank is low.

    And everyone shouts to be heard over the din.

    "Advise me of your situation," the voice on the radio said.

    "I haven't found anything yet," yelled one of the men. In the end, the teams of firefighters found the victim - a heavy plastic dummy - and rescued two firefighters who suffered a lack of oxygen.

    Cunningham, who was on one of the search teams, said the mock rescue made him remember the times he has found fire victims in beds or in closets.

    "Kids hide in the closet," said Cunningham. "This brings back memories."

    - Tamara Lush can be reached at 226-3373 or at [email protected]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  • #2
    I have been through the house that this article is talking about since I am a volunteer for HCFR at the Seffner MAngo Volunteer Station. It is very realin there.I have been to the house three times...I wil be there again...
    Fail to plan. Plan to fail.

    FL EMT-B
    FL State Firefighter
    Pro Board Firefighter
    Career Firefighter
    Local 2103


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