Anyone driving on University Avenue near 111th Avenue Monday evening, Jan. 28 saw fire trucks parked by three dilapidated Blaine homes. Flames and smoke were not visible from the outside. The fire truck lights were not even flashing.
That is because this was not a real emergency. Approximately 30 paid-on-call Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View firefighters were preparing for real scenarios they may someday face.
Dan Anderson, battalion chief, said they can do their best to train in the fire station or at a training facility but there is only so much they can do to simulate real-world conditions.
That is why the SBM Fire Department jumped at the opportunity to train in three abandoned Blaine homes before they will be demolished to make way for the University Avenue reconstruction project this summer.
Firefighter John Connolly, who has been a volunteer paid-on-call firefighter with SBM Fire Department for four years, said they often get to practice search and rescue at the training facilities in Fridley and Blaine. They do not get as much practice at forcing open doors, however.
“It’s more realistic,” said firefighter Chad Martin, who helped organize this training. “You’re not just putting up two-by-fours. Guys are actually going through a real wall. To have an opportunity like this is rare.”
In case they and the person they are rescuing were trapped in a basement, the firefighters squeezed out of a small basement window in one of the homes before carefully extracting a 165-pound mannequin from that same window.
The firefighters quickly figured out they would have to remove their air tanks from their back and pass them out before quickly crawling through the small window. At least one firefighter got hung up because of his radio. He had to remove it and pass it to another firefighter before getting out.
Anderson said about one-third of all firefighter carry radios, which are always on the front of their turnout gear. These individuals will have to talk with each other about the fact that the radio adds another obstacle to getting out of tight spaces.
In case the basement window is too narrow to get a person out of, they used a chainsaw to cut boards and pulled apart the home around the window to create a bigger opening.
At another home, firefighters pried open a front door and went inside to confront other obstacles in the smoke-filled house. A smoke machine added to the effect of going into a burning home to search for survivors. Martin said there was not enough time to coordinate burning down these homes and Anoka County already had a demolition contract set up.
Firefighters set up a ladder at another home so they could climb to the roof and cut slits into it with a chainsaw. Anderson said the fire would already be getting air when the firefighters go into a home. These “vertical ventilation” holes give the smoke another place to go so the firefighters entering a home can see more easily.
However, Anderson said he likely would not send any firefighters to the roof of a newer home because the lightweight construction makes the roof more susceptible to collapse during a fire if people are on it. However, there are still enough older homes in the area that Anderson felt it worthwhile for these firefighters to at least practice the “vertical ventilation” technique.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]