March 23, 2007

Firefighters face flame, further fundamentals of fighting fiery fiend

Firefighters face this fiery fiend March 17 at the annual Fort Polk-sponsored Louisiana State University Regional Firefighter’s Mini School. With nothing between them and danger except water and training, they form two lines bound together by trust and determination, battling a propane tank leak. Fort Polk firefighters joined forces with others from Vernon, Sabine, Rapides and Beauregard parishes to enhance their training.

Editor's note: I rencetly had the chance to cover the annual fire school they held here on post. I have worked the the Fire and Emergency Services personnel for 3 years now and have a special place for them in my heart, so when they offered to let me don gear and "get involved" in the story, I was excited. Below is the story publiished in today's paper. I hope to write a commentary about it for next week's paper, so check back next week ...

-- Published in Fort Polk Guardian (March 23, 2007) --
By: MICHELLE LINDSEY, Guardian staff writer

Twelve firefighters crouched low to the ground, watching the fire creep up the walls. The fire, like a beast, seemed to devour everything in its path while thick, gray smoke rolled along the ceiling in slow, swirling patterns. Their breaths were heavy, the intensity of the heat seemed to reach the core of their beings. Fighting human nature to escape this hell, they sat mesmerized by the lifelike form of the monster. Meanwhile, a few yards away, more firefighters were entangled in a heated battle with another fiery fiend, its hunger fed by the steady flow of a propane leak. This team of five, determined to be victorious, worked as one, their movements and skills united as they moved closer.

Though this may seem like the scene of Hollywood's latest movie, it isn't. Fort Polk's Directorate of Emergency Services firefighters joined with local fire departments for the Louisiana State University Regional Firefighters Mini School March 16-17.

“The fire school's goal is to get as many firefighters trained in the skills that we are teaching, so they will know how to perform (in these situations),” said Jack Canton, LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute.

This is the second mini school held at Fort Polk.

“(LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute) has been in Vernon Parish for training before, but the school at Fort Polk was a joint effort between Fort Polk Fire and Emergency Services and (LSU),” Canton added.

Michael Kuk, chief of Fort Polk's F&ES, said the school was inspired by his experiences as an LSU fire instructor at Fort Polk from 1979 to 1985. Kuk taught fire science courses and promised that if he returned as fire chief, he would institute a fire school to foster the camaraderie and teamwork of area fire departments. That promise was fulfilled when the program started last year.

“I liked the harmony and interfacing of area firefighters. It was a time for us not only to improve our skills, but also to network and get to know each other rather than wait for an (emergency),” said Kuk. “This year, not only did we have Vernon Parish firefighters, but those from Sabine, Rapides and Beauregard parishes.

“Not only does the school benefit us and the local firefighters, but it is also good for Fort Polk's reputation as a partner with local communities,” he said.

The school included 12 hours of classroom and field or interactive training.

Most students' field training “heated up” with time in the flashover simulator.

A flashover occurs when intense gas layers heat objects in the room to the point of combustion, said David Manning, LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute instructor. The fire in the room may not need to reach the object, as the heat of it can cause ignition in a confined room or building.

Students, dressed in fire gear with aluminum foil covering their helmets to deflect heat and deter melting, sat inside the LSU flashover simulator where temperatures at ceiling level reach between 900 and 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, Manning said. “Floor temperature is only about 300 degrees which teaches them quickly to stay low to the ground.”

The simulator recreates these conditions in a controlled environment through a small, portable metal building. Lumber was lit at one side of the building as firefighters on the other side witnessed first hand the charactistics of the fire's burn pattern.

Instructors and students agreed that continual training is valuable in saving the lives of firefighters and those they rescue.

“Training changes so much. No two fires are alike, so training helps firefighters learn to adjust. Fires don't happen every day at every fire department. Continuous training helps keep them on their toes,” said Canton. “Technology is also changing. When firefighters attend schools, like Fort Polk, they learn by training on this equipment.”

An example of the new technology is the locating devices firefighters attached to their gear at the training.

“The devices are instrumental in finding fallen firefighters,” said Greg Self, Fort Polk F&ES. “If the device is stationary for a certain time, then it starts to beep, slowly at first, then faster. The firefighter must start moving again or press a button (on the locator) to reset it. This can help rescuers find injured firefighters who may not be able to call out.”

Canton said the overall goal of fire training is safety and knowledge.

“Our number one goal is saving lives. If I can't save my own life, how can I save someone else's? This training helps firefighters save their lives and those of others,” Canton said.

Each year the school changes, offering students the newest training.

“We also host different classes, scenarios and specialties. Whatever the fire departments needs we try to provide,” said Canton.

The mini school offered two training programs this year. “The basic firefighter class taught the principles of why you attack a fire in a certain way, whether it is a building fire or a pressurized gas fire. They review case histories and learn the approach of fighting fires,” said Kuk. “The officer strategy and tactics class teaches overall firefighting movement as a commander as well as how to work with personnel. As leaders, they have to develop themselves because they must address a variety of management issues.”

LSU Fire and Emergency Training Institute provided a flashover simulator, portable cascade system, LPG (propane) prop and a maze trailer for training as well as six LSU instructors and three guest instructors from local fire departments.

“The school is essential training for new recruits and a much-needed refresher for seasoned firefighters, “ said Eric Stracener, guest instructor who works for the DeRidder Fire Department and volunteers at Rosepine Fire Department. “By working with other fire departments we become familiar with each other's equipment and personnel. It builds teamwork. We don't operate without teamwork. It is part of our life. This feels like a family reunion,” he said of the two-day school. “Firefighters are essentially one big family whether we know each other or not.”

Students included Soldiers as well. While Soldier firefighters are used in the Army, Fort Polk has not housed a unit until recently.

“I think the last military firefighter that might have been here was me in 1969,” said Kuk, referring to his prior service with the Army.

“That military occupational specialty was a very small one and now, because of the war and the critical depots and supply points that need to be protected in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army leadership realized there needs to be a stand up and enhancement of the MOS in general.

“They (Soldiers) work with us, learn the same skills and get the same certifications as (civilian firefighters). They receive real on-the-job training by working with (civilian personnel). They are a valuable part of our (team).”

More than 80 firefighters participated in the school.

“It was a great training experience. I practiced some needed skills. It was a good simulation of the real thing,” said Spc. Diego Rincon, 524th Engineer Detachment, 46th Engineer Battalion, 1st Combat Support Brigade. The 524th Soldiers are Army firefighters operationally assigned to the Fort Polk Fire and Emergency Services. The unit arrived at Fort Polk in November, 2005.

“Working with others helps you learn how people do things. You learn how a volunteer or community department works versus an Army fire department,” he added. “It helps build teamwork.”

“We want to keep this as a Fort Polk tradition, hosting annual training schools for local fire departments,” said Kuk. “I would like to host night sessions in the future. Night gives a whole new dimension and perception to fighting fires. It's something I look forward to.”

For more articles in the Fort Polk Guardian, visit our web page.

2 Tea Party Guest:

stitcherw said...

Interesting article. I can tell you really enjoy writing as well as the subject. Firefighting is so scary and dangerous, it is nice to know that different groups are working together to try and ensure that each individual has as much safety and technical knowledge as possible.

lime said...

as the wife of a volunteer firefighter, i thank you for this article