As Real as It Can Get

Photos by Russ Baldwin – Click on a picture to see a bigger version.

There’s nothing like the real thing. Lamar firefighters and Prowers County Rural fire department members were put through their paces in a training exercise this past Wednesday night, June 15, at the former Big R warehouses on Washington Street. A reality-oriented exercise, under manufactured ‘real-life’ conditions, simulated a series of maneuvering obstacles for the class.

The fire department borrowed the warehouse from PCDI for a week. Lamar fire chief Marshall Cook requested use of two buildings to erect a multi-piece obstacle course which would take blindfolded fireman wearing their full gear, through a series of mazes. You could normally walk around the course in under a minute. In full gear, blindfolded, and using only your feet and hands to follow a firehose, it took the first two firefighters about 20 minutes from start to finish, mostly feeling their way on their hands and knees.

Oxygen tanks got snagged on loose wiring and cable as would be found in a fire or storm damaged building. The course led them over open rafters in a mock ceiling, down a staircase with loose flooring, through a tunnel that narrowed to the point where they had to take their oxygen tanks off, and push them ahead and put back on again, and finally, up an incline to a point where the floor was rigged to literally drop from under them, letting the firefighter safely land on foam blocks.

Cook and fellow firefighters were on hand to help talk Jesse Fournier and Heather Burkhart, the first trainees through their course. But even with that help, Fournier had problems with a leaking oxygen tank, and Burkhart got four-fifths of the way through the course before the heat of the day and her heavy gear exhausted her. There was hardly any exposed flesh visible as the firefighters were wearing a heavy cloth mask which left them blind and hampered their breathing plus all their turnout gear. Occasionally, the room was filled with high-pitched beeps from their automatic locator devices which would sound when they detected lack of motion. Cook said the alarm would let rescuers know where a fallen firefighter was located.

Cook said firefighters go through the course about once a year. The obstacle maze was constructed by the fire department members, following instructions available from a national firefighters website, and from having observed other similar pieces. New additions, such as the drop-away floor, were recently added. The fire chief remarked that this type of training was needed to help prepare the department for coping with conditions they encountered at the South 13th apartment complex in Lamar last week.

by Russ Baldwin

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