Heads were turning as drivers passed the Havre Fire Station and craned to get a closer look at a burning metal trailer Wednesday afternoon. Fires don't often occur in Havre, said Chief Dave Sheppard, guessing that, on average, less than 20 fires occur per year. The training fire Wednesday created plumes of smoke that escaped the open top of the practice trailer while firefighters honed their skills so that when a real fire occurs, they'll be ready. All 17 of Havre's firefighters have been on fire calls, Sheppard said, but the training is valuable. "And its a lot safer," he said. "It's a controlled environment, so you don't have the risks involved." The fireproof smoke trailer comes from the Fire Service Training School in Great Falls. Wood shavings held together with a mesh are burned inside to simulate an actual fire. The trailer's height and the basic characteristics of the fire inside make the situation similar to what firefighters would be up against on an actual call. Members of Havre's force will use the trailer for the next several weeks for various training exercises, including vertical ventilation, horizontal ventilation and using the fire hose. Wednesday f iref ighters, ful ly dressed in their gear, used roof ladders, a special chain saw and a trash hook to cut square ventilation holes in The roof of the trailer. Below, their fellow workers practiced entering the trailer. Firefighters work in shifts of three, so the initial response to a fire is those three. Other firefighters respond if needed. At the site, the leader of the shift walks around the structure to get a better idea of what the fire is like. He looks for clues like the color of smoke and whether it is coming out under pressure. If the fire is burning in a contained area, it will decrease in size as it depletes its oxygen, but when firefighters open a door or window, it can cause what Sheppard referred to as a flash over, or a giant ball of fire when everything ignites again. The initial team works to knock the fire down and get it under control. Then, usually a second team comes in and works to further extinguish the flames. Sheppard explained that the firefighter in front drops to his knees before opening the outer door to limit the risk of getting hit in the face with flames from a possible flash over or a back draft. Once in the structure, firefighters crawl to stay below the bulk of the smoke. Crawling also enables them to feel the floor in front of them and keeps them from unsuspectingly falling through holes. One firefighter was dragged from inside the trailer to simulate what would happen if he were hurt. "The more training you do, the better off you'll be in a real life situation," said 24-year-veteran Capt. Tim Hedges, who was watching from the sidelines. He participated in a horizontal venting training session Tuesday. Any fire is unpredictable, and firefighters are always cautious, he said, but some of the lessons that he learns while doing training pop into his head later when he's responding. "You need to train constantly so that when you do go to a fire, it's just second nature." Regardless of the fire, "our biggest concern is, of course, life safety," he said. Then the concern is getting the fire contained. And firefighters try to salvage some of the property if they can, he added, saying that the buildings are people's homes. "It still takes a lot of training, and you need to be physically fit," he said.
Havre firefighters train for live situations
Published: Thursday, February 18th, 2010
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