A while back I wrote about my experience in the Keller Citizen’s Fire Academy and CERT class when we were given a chance to suit up in full bunker gear and go into a darkened room.  This morning we went to an old house here in town and did the exercise in a more realistic environment.  Before we entered they filled the house with smoke (theatrical smoke, rather than the real thing) and then took in a “baby” that we had to go find (it was actually a rope bag). 

They sent us in in groups of four with a hose line.  I was the first one in, so in addition to carrying the nozzle I had to feel out the obstacles in the environment and relay that information back to the people behind me.  We followed a left-hand search pattern, which means we stayed to the left and always took left turns.  I have to say that crawling on your hands and knees, carrying the hose line, and feeling your way around is a pretty tough thing to do.  You almost need a third hand to do it all.  As for actually being able to find anything, I’m amazed that we did it.  The third person in our line was the one who found the baby.  It was fortunate that he did so when he did, because just after that I heard the low air warning bells coming from someone else’s pack.  At that point we all turned around and followed the hose line outside.

One thing that I found amazing is that more firefighters aren’t injured doing search and rescue.  Something you don’t think about, but that poses a real hazard, is a drop-off.  Since they’re feeling their way around, they can’t easily tell that there’s a drop-off in front of them.  An example of this would be a sunken living room or a garage.  In some houses, the garage may be several feet below the floor level of the rest of the house.  We had one that was only a few inches and it felt like a mile when I stumbled across it with my knees.

It was definitely an eye-opening experience.  In a real fire you won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face because of the smoke, and it’s imperative that you stay low as the smoke above you is extremely hot.  Not only would you not be able to breathe, you would be burned.

Here’s a good shot of how thick the smoke was as one of our class members was entering:

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