Training exercise helps fight fire with fire

Published 12:56 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

As firefighters milled around a house on Old Highway 280 early Friday, passersby couldn’t have known that the firefighters had actually set the house on fire.

The situation was part of a live training exercise to help the firefighters get acclimated to fighting fires.

“We can simulate these all day long, but a live fire is the best way to train,” said Chelsea Fire Chief Wayne Shirley. “It’s the best way to train our people to be ready for the real thing.”

The firefighters treated the exercise as if it was an actual event, from the fire trucks waiting outside to the paramedic transport ready to go at any moment.

They didn’t just set the house on fire, however. They set the fires in different rooms, one at a time, for safety measures.

“When we burn a house, we try to burn one room at a time, because if you don’t burn one room at a time it’ll get away from you,” said Chelsea Fire Capt. Brad McCann.

Setting the fires at a deliberate pace also helps the trainees get used to the technology behind fighting fires.

The fire department has thermal imaging cameras, which allow firefighters to see where the most heat is coming from and fight fire at its source.

“We’ve got to get them used to using the technology,” Shirley said.

The exercise, which was to last until mid-afternoon, was headed up by the Chelsea Fire Department, but firefighters from the Harpersville Fire Department and the Cahaba Valley Fire Department were there to learn as well.

Shirley said the Chelsea Fire Department tries to do the live simulations as often as possible, but such training exercises are dependent on house donors.

“A property owner comes to us because he’s doing something with his property and he wants his house gone,” Shirley said.

Because of that, the fire department doesn’t get to do these exercises as often as they’d like, but they still get to have about two a year, he said.