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Getting in some practice

This fire training is the real deal

Practice makes perfect ... or at least it makes being trapped inside a hot, dark, loud burning building more tolerable.

Members of the Cromwell-Wright fire district - along with firefighters from Carlton, Mahtowa, Blackhoof and Floodwood - spent four hours on a weekend in May practicing their firefighting skills with a live fire.

Cromwell-Wright fire chief Lucas Goodin said such practice burns are vital to training because they offer real-life conditions versus more usual training, which often involves burning combustible products inside a metal shipping container.

"Fire behaves significantly differently in an older home like this one than a modern building or a metal shipping container," he said. "Some of our firefighters had never been in an actual burn structure."

They start slowly, Goodin said. At first they simply walk the firefighters through and around the outside of the building, so they can see what it's like and "size up" the scene and the structure.

In Level 1 training, for those with little or no actual experience, they start with a smaller fire. The burn instructor and trainers stay inside with their students - whom they outnumber - while they let the fire build up and intensify, crawling from the floor, up the wall and to the ceiling.

"Then we let them bring it back to where it smolders, and we do as many reps as we can," Goodin said.

Next they progress to a Level 2 burn, in which they allow the fire to get significantly larger and hotter with an increased level of complexity. The trainers let the firefighters see the fire behavior and experience the smoke inversion as it moves closer and closer to the floor. They bring in the thermal imaging camera so the trainees can see above and below the smoke inversion.

"It's a lot of education, and it also proves their mettle," Goodin said. "Being in a fire like that is stressful, hot, dark and loud. Some people do very well, some need exposure to see what happens and how to mitigate or how to get out safely."

It's a lot of training and a very fast-paced event, he said, because they are trying to get 20 or 30 firefighters in and out for training while the building is still safe to do that.

At some point, the fire chief said, they get everyone out and set the building alight strategically so it will burn and fall into the foundation. At that point, it's not about putting the fire out, rather it's about stopping it from spreading or affecting nearby buildings or trees, etc.

He encouraged people with old structures that are failing to contact their local fire department if they are willing to donate the building for fire training. The department will hire a company to test for asbestos or other hazardous materials and work with the homeowner from there.

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