It takes more than courage to enter a burning building.
It takes science.
And understanding that science is what a group of Chilliwack firefighters was doing in east Chilliwack on Friday.
They were taking part in a series of training exercises as they integrate into the department as full time staff.
As smoke billowed from the abandoned bungalow on Annis Road, firefighters planned their attack. Their strategy was backed up by years of experience by incident commanders, and the evolving study of fire behaviour.
“There’s a lot of thought and science behind it,” says Assistant Fire Chief Andy Brown. “It’s not just bashing down the door and racing in there.”
The exercise on Friday was “a live burn.” The goal was to enter the building, conduct a search, and retrieve any possible victims – all while the house continued to burn.
“It can be quite a daunting task when you enter a burning house for the first time,” says Brown.
Doing it safely is the product of training, analysis and understanding.
“When we enter a burning building,” says Brown, “we are taking a calculated risk.”
Minimizing that risk is the first priority. Often witnesses who watch firefighters arrive on scene are surprised by the methodical and unhurried approach they take, Brown admits. And when flames erupt through a window or a roof, it is easy to think the fire is out of hand.
In fact, firefighters are attempting to make the blaze do what they want. If there is fire and heat on the inside, one of the first steps is to lead it to the outside. Smoke, meanwhile, is not only blinding, it’s deadly – particularly in newer homes were much of the furnishings are made from plastics, glues and chemicals.
Exercises like the one on Friday show firefighters how to “chase” the smoke from a building, giving them time to locate potential victims and move them to safety.
While the classroom is where a lot of the discussion about fire behaviour takes place, it can’t replace the real-life experience of entering a burning home for the first time.
That’s why exercises like the one conducted on Friday are so important. Eventually, Brown says, the department will have its own training facility were it can better conduct live-fire scenarios.
The training continues this week for the new firefighters. They’ll be working on vehicle crash scenarios and victim extraction.
Meanwhile, training for a group of new paid on-call firefighters just got under way. Their training – 140 hours in total – wraps up in March.