A firefighter goes down while battling a house fire, and the ceilings are collapsing.
The fire chief sounds three blasts on the firetruck, and three other firefighters have to make a decision: Search for the firefighter and pull him to safety or leave him and get out of the house.
They chose to drag him out, but the ceiling collapsed, and that resulted in four firefighters losing their lives instead of one.
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Fortunately, this was a scenario in a training exercise, but it very well could happen in real life.
“Next time they hear three blasts, they get out of there and save their lives. That way, we don’t lose any other firefighters,” said Lt. Steve Mowdy, training and safety officer for the Redding Township Volunteer Fire Department.
“It’s bone-chilling because that’s one of the things I tell them: ‘When you hear that, you’ve got a decision to make,’” he said. “It’s just like when we work ambulance and we have a cardiac arrest, we do everything we can to save them, we really do. You’ve got to make that decision sometimes. Where do you stop? Training like this, this is as close to real life as you’re going to get.”
Throughout March, more than 80 volunteer firefighters from departments in Jackson, Bartholomew and Jennings counties participated in training with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s Mobile Live Fire Trainer.
There were eight different days for the training, which was held in a gravel lot across from Indiana American Water Co. in Rockford just north of Seymour.
The 13-foot trailer can be requested for two to four weeks and provides several ways for firefighters to do hands-on training.
Mowdy said that includes firefighter survival, search and rescue, fire suppression, fire behavior, room and content fires, basement fires, upstairs fires, flashovers, full-blown fires, ladder operations, hose patterns and ventilation.
“It can be trained however you want to do it,” Mowdy said. “There are so many things that you can do with this that we’re not even going to have enough time to go through all of it ourselves. We have gone crazy on this thing training so much.”
A person mans the controller based on the scenario, putting their thumb on one button and operating the trigger with their other hand.
With search and rescue, Mowdy could smoke the trailer up so firefighters couldn’t see within inches of their face while they had to find a downed firefighter, which was a dummy, and drag them out.
For fire behavior, he could light up the inside of the trailer to various degrees.
“We’ll get it heated up in there to where they feel this is real life,” Mowdy said. “It has been as high as 1,200 degrees. That’s dry heat. That’s not even adding water to it. That shoots up to 1,600 degrees, enough to hurt a person severely if they are not fully protected.”
Before each person entered the trailer, Mowdy double-checked to ensure they were dressed appropriately and had all of the necessary equipment. That resulted in no accidents occurring during the monthlong training.
“This thing allows us to put the fires out, and it’s fully controlled,” he said. “It’s very safe and very controlled. That’s one of the biggest things I like about this. It has kind of given them the opportunity to remind themselves what it’s like inside.”
For new firefighters, Mowdy said the trailer helps them be ready to take their Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 classes. For those who have already completed those classes, it gives them continuing education hours for their state certifications.
With the trailer and actual fire runs, Mowdy said firefighters — whether they are new or veterans — learn something new every time.
Redding firefighter Isaac Bowman went through the training twice in March. He said he hadn’t done any live fire training before, but he has responded to actual house fires.
“I think it compares,” he said of the trailer. “Yeah, everything in there is metal, but you still get the heat aspect of it and dealing with the fire.”
He said it was exciting going into the trailer not knowing what to expect in terms of the level of heat and smoke and how the inside was set up.
“It was interesting,” he said. “You could do things in there that I haven’t done before. I haven’t had to do anything with basements, and we did that.”
Bowman said the training was beneficial.
“It has given me more experience,” he said. “Now that I’ve done this, I know somewhat what to expect when I go into a house fire. Things in the house will react a little differently, but it gives me more experience that I hadn’t gained in the past. This gives us something better to train on.”
Redding Chief Brandon Stott said while the department fortunately doesn’t have to respond to fires very often, the trailer gave his firefighters an opportunity to experience the heat and smoke.
“The main difference is here, we have white smoke because it’s simulating the smoke. Other house fires, you’re lucky if you can see your hand in front of your face,” he said. “The biggest thing about this trailer is you know everything is controlled, so you go into it knowing what it is most times, but it still gives you that opportunity to practice and train and make sure you’ve got all of your skills down if you’re going into a house fire.”
Nearly 20 Redding firefighters trained on the trailer in March.
“This isn’t stuff that’s used every day … so it helps people get more familiar with it and learn more about our equipment,” Stott said. “It’s definitely a good team-building exercise.”
Sometimes, they were joined by firefighters from other departments.
“When we train with surrounding departments, that gives us an opportunity to get with them,” Stott said. “We don’t work with them all of the time, so you get to know the people that you’re going to be with at the fire and other emergencies.”
Mowdy said it’s free to request the trailer, but the fire department has to pay for fuel and the liquid petroleum and nitrogen used for the smoke. A donation from Premier Companies helped with some of that expense.
Mowdy hopes to bring the trailer back to Jackson County in November.
“I want to challenge all of the other departments to take advantage of this trailer, either when it’s here again or they bring it to their station,” he said.
“I challenge all fire chiefs, get this in your township, get your firefighters out there, let them enjoy this, let them get the experience because they are never going to get the opportunity to train like this on an actual house fire because at that point, we’re not training. We are working,” he said. “There’s a big difference.”
Local townships’ firefighters often work together on scenes, so Mowdy said it’s good for them to train together, too.
“This way gives us the opportunity to learn who everybody is and be able to know their strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We’re just trying to offer it to the rest of the community because the rest of the townships have opened their trainings up for us, so it’s going to be a better Jackson County altogether. We want to be able to help everybody.”
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For information about the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s Mobile Live Fire Trainer, visit in.gov/dhs/4158.htm.