Thursday, August 5, 2010

Firefighter Training In Full Gear

By John Larson

SOCORRO - The New Mexico Firefighters Academy in Socorro is hosting its 55th Annual Firefighters Training School this week with firefighters from 60 fire departments from around the state taking courses to improve their firefighting and rescue skills.
Director Reyes Romero said this year an emphasis will be put on training for volunteer firefighters.
He said 80 percent of all fire departments in the state are volunteer.
Although the academy holds classes year-round, the annual event encompasses more intensive training.
During the training week firefighters learn to deal with structural firefighting, which includes residential, business, and warehouse type fires.
The structural training building is made of concrete with doors and windows of steel, and is segmented to represent an apartment, a retail business, and a warehouse setting. Refrigerators, stoves, and even an elevator shaft are used to re-create the behavior or different types of blazes.
Fires are created with stacks of wooden pallets.
Romero said an instructor is present at all times, and there's at least one instructor to every five firemen during training.
“No one goes into the structure without an instructor,” Romero said.
He said firefighters have intensive training on how to deal with any type of incident, and they are graded on their actions.
He added that the firefighter enters a situation with three priorities.
“First, the safety of the firefighter, second, the rescue of victims, and third, the protection of property,” Romero said. “This applies to every situation, whether it's a structure fire, vehicle extraction, or an LPG situation.”
“If the firefighter is injured, there's no way he will be able to pull someone out of a fire, so his or her safety comes first. The protection of property always comes after the first two.”
Another part of the training area is dedicated to liquefied petroleum gas fires.
Romero said putting out an LPG fire requires teamwork and coordination.
“A fire a propane tank is particularly dangerous,” he said. “Most of those fires are from a loose valve. The goal is not to put out the fire, but to turn off the tank's valve.”
He said three firefighters must work together, two with their hoses on the 'fogger' setting to push the flame back, and the third to reach in and shut off the valve.
“The third man has only an eighth of an inch leeway between the valve and the fire,” Romero said. “That's why there had to be coordination.”
All LPG blazes require teamwork, he said.
In the case of a fire at a refinery at least three water streams are needed.
“Those are the most complicated to deal with,” he said.
Firefighters are also tested on something a little more common – vehicle crashes and the extraction of occupants.
Among other things, firefighters are graded on their technique with the equipment, teamwork, and the time it takes.
“There's something we call 'the golden hour',” one instructor said. “That's the time most crucial for the patient. It's the time it takes from when the crash is reported, to getting the team dispatched, to getting the patient transported to a trauma center. We strive to keep that time to under sixty minutes.”
The most modern cars can present a variety of dangers, and the fire academy has to keep up with the latest vehicle technology. Hybrid cars are particularly problematic in a crash.
“Hybrid cars carry up to 600 volts of electricity,” he said. “We have to know how to deal with that without frying ourselves.
“If the Jaws of Life, or other extraction tool, cuts into an electric circuit it could blow up the generator powering the tool, and at worst, electrocute the firefighter.”
An open house is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 7.
Romero said the general public is invited to come to the Academy for demonstrations on firefighting techniques, “and a barbecue provided by the City of Socorro.”

Picture: A firefighter prepares to attack a car fire at the New Mexico Firefighters Training Academy Wednesday.

Photo by John Larson

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