As part of an annual training scenario, designed to test new recruits of the Rockford Fire Department, firefighters are training to rescue a fellow firefighter, who collapsed leaving a building, during a mock fire rescue mission.
The recruits struggled to make it out of the building in time, before it collapsed.
The group of recruits had to show their teachers how they would fair against real life situations in order to graduate.
“The first thing we did this morning, is all the recruits showed up. And just like a normal shift day, they’ve got to go through their vehicle, their rig [and] make sure their breathing apparatus are all working, that all their equipment is ready to respond and ready show up and do the work.” says Brian Carlson, Fire Training Coordinator for Rockford Fire Department.
“We started out this morning with a car fire that we simulated for them. We actually had a car burning and they responded to that and extinguished the car fire. We had a car extraction where we had a patient trapped in a vehicle and we had another crew of recruits that was responsible for removing that trapped victim using our extraction tools. We also had a small structure fire that we had them respond to and they had to extinguish the fire, search for victims and then respond and report back for duty,” Carlson continues.
The recruits’ handling of the situation is dependent upon the construction of the structure on fire.
In the training scenario, with smoke filling the room, the inside was completely pitch black to the firefighters, the only light available being the flashlight on their helmets and their thermo-seeing gear.
There was virtually no visibility until they finally spotted the fire and successfully put it out.
“Those different buildings’ construction type (pose) challenges to firefighters,” says Carlson. “Newer construction is built [with] lighter weight [materials]. They’re built quickly and put together so they react differently in fire conditions [and can collapse faster]. That’s why we need to get there quicker… [With] older construction, smoke travels more, but it can handle more heat and fire, while newer construction just cannot handle the fire load when it comes to the fire actually burning in the structure.”
The response time for a fire crew arriving on scene needs to be six minutes or less to be effective, but even then, depending on the structure, it could still be too late.
For example, a fire in the winter of 2013, to a home on 10th Avenue, took the lives of four people, one being a 10-month-old toddler, in just six minutes.
“We wanted to succeed, but we can’t always do that. There are times when people do die in fires. We’ve had that in the city of Rockford,” says Carlson.
The Rockford Fire Department responded to 258 structure fires in 2016, which is down slightly from the previous year, due mostly to a slight drop in the number of house fires.
“One of the largest challenges we have on the Fire Department is our call volume and continuing to stay trained,” says Carlson. “We are the second busiest fire department in the state of Illinois. We respond to 27,000 calls a year…with 11 fire stations.”
Austin Larson, the newly graduated probationary Rockford Firefighter, says, “It’s a lot of pressure, but during the academy, one of the biggest things is, that they keep the brotherhood strong. You never know that you’re going to sit in a room with 16 guys and at the end you’re actually going to be brothers. I think no matter how busy the department gets, knowing that we are brothers, we’ll get through whatever the day is.”
The group of graduates are now on a year’s probation, but they know that once they become full fledged firefighters, learning never stops.
“You never stop learning,” says Larson. “They say the day you stop learning is the day you should get out. So keep learning.”