Sometimes, a firefighter is lucky enough to be told where exactly he can find someone trapped in a burning building.
But what happens if a wall of fire and billowing smoke are inhibiting a firefighter from being able to safely rescue a victim? Does a firefighter brave the flames, or does he put out the fire?
These are just some of the crucial decisions firefighters have to make in the line of duty, and it could mean the difference between saving a life and saving a burning building, said Battalion Chief Ron Penix of the Lodi Fire Department. To help hone their skills with such critical decisions, firefighters took turns Tuesday going through VES training.
VES training, which stands for “vent, enter and search,” has firefighters finding alternate routes when entering a building when the primary access point — the front door — is engulfed in flames.
“This works for firefighters when there is a known victim in the building in a known location,” Penix said. “It is important for firefighters to get in and get out with that trapped person or people.”
Fire Station 1 became a test site for fire crews to climb ladders into second story rooms that had been cleared out for training. Using a child-like dummy as a trapped victim, crews ascended ladders and crawled on their stomachs through a room to make sure no other victims were left behind.
Firefighters then grabbed the dummy and lifted it over the window sill to another crew member outside before descending to the ground below.
While there is no standard time that firefighters must meet to get in and get out, Penix said ideally most would locate a victim and get them to safety within a minute of entering a smokey or fiery room.
VES training was not the only thing firefighters faced Tuesday.
In another section of the fire station, crews were asked to climb to the roof of the station to practice entering from the top of the structure, should windows and door access prove to be too dangerous.
Called vertical ventilation, fire crews were instructed to pretend to cut openings in the roof of a building that had caught fire, which would allow any heat and smoke to escape, making entry safer, Penix said.
Penix added that such an opening would also prevent something called a flashover, which is a near simultaneous ignition of most of the exposed combustible material in an enclosed area.
Should a ventilation system not be created, temperatures could reach up to 1000 degrees, causing anything and everything in the fire’s path to melt.
“Things like that are generally not survivable,” Penix said. “Not only do the victims not survive, firefighters won’t make it either. This type of training teaches firefighters to create something like a chimney, which lowers temperatures and increases people’s survival.”
But, one company, or a group of three, are responsible for knowing how to gain access to a burning building from a roof; whereas VES training was something all firefighters must know how to do. Penix said fewer crew members are specialized for vertical ventilation because of budget cuts.
He stressed, however, that whether a firefighter enters from the roof or from a window to try to reach a victim, the goal is still the same — keep that person alive.
“This is about saving a person, not a property,” he said. “At the end of the day, that is our job.”
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.