See, we weren’t firefighters yet. We had to prove ourselves during our academy, both physically (practical skills), and academically, or else the Captain said he “just wouldn’t trust us with his life.” We would be cut from the live fire activities. Fair enough!
There were a few of us who were not quite up to snuff academically, but as the academic cutoff date approached, those few dug deep and pulled out out some great scores.
Going into live fire week, we were all prepared mentally and physically for what was sure to be the most incredible experience of our training (and maybe our lives).
The live fire days consisted of 3 events: The Burn Room, The Flashover Simulator, and The Dragon.
The Burn Room
The burn room is a construct of two rooms at the base of The Tower. It’s built of all-concrete, and has a heating system built into it. The first room is a reconfigurable maze where teams can go in and practice search and rescue procedures. The second room has a walled off section with a “crib” in the center. In the crib, the staff places a burning pallet. The burning pallet in combination with the heating system makes for a very cozy environment as I’m sure you can imagine.
We got to do two entries into the burn room.
Our first foray into the burn room, I was at the back of the hose and carrying a pike pole. As I went on-air, we stayed low and got the door open. I simulated a check for extension into the attic, then retreated back to my place on the line. The team made our way into the burn room. The heat was noticeable in the search room, but not particularly hot. I think many of us were overwhelmed with adrenaline, as our search attempts were feeble and disorganized. We slowly made our way through the first room doing a left-handed search (sticking to the left-most wall) as best we could.
We got around the room to the wall on the far side of the tower. I noticed there was a door behind me and called it out to the team. As we moved forward, we came to the door to the actual burn room and prepared to make entry.
On our first trip in, we advanced our line around the back of the crib. The instructor talked us through some of the environmental details and the fire behavior, and we largely just hung out for a bit to see what a live fire feels like. It was amazing to me how awkward the pike pole was; Trying to control that thing while crawling around was incredibly awkward.
Needless to say, it was hot in the burn room! Not to try to sound macho or anything like that, but I felt it was not in any way uncomfortable. The time we were in there seemed to fly, and before I knew it we were heading back the way we came in. Once we got out, I was hot and sweaty, but not exhausted.
Our second trip into the burn room would be a much different story.
Firstly, by the time we were going in (for the second time), it was in the middle of the afternoon and the room had reached its peak-toastiness (this is an actual fire term… ok, not really). On top of that, we were going to go in, and do “some work”.
Some Work: advancing a line up the stairs, and searching for a victim, then descending and beating on tires with sledgehammers and doing reps with pike poles.
During the middle of beating on a tire with my sledgehammer, I took a mental snapshot and thought to myself “This is far and away the most badass thing I have ever done. I am loving this moment.” I felt so lucky to be there at that moment (standing next to one of my favorite instructors, John Spanarella) experiencing something that most people couldn’t even imagine.
As I left the burn room, the rehab team helped me peel off my red-hot gear, and I headed to the cooler for some gatorade and some debriefing.
This was my first taste of live fire, and it tasted good.