Practice makes perfect for fire department

Things can go horribly wrong in an instant in a fire, but firefighters can rely on experience gained

Things can go horribly wrong in an instant in a fire, but firefighters can rely on experience gained through training to save themselves in the event of an emergency, Fire Chief Bruce Heberer said Friday.

As he spoke, members of the department prepared to conduct drills in an abandoned city-owned house on Hoosac Street destined for the wrecking ball.

Several chiefs put a half-dozen firefighters through the drills, first firefighter survival and then rapid intervention, or the simulated rescue of a downed firefighter.

Heberer explained how to use hose lines and their couplings to find an escape route.

The male end of the coupling points toward the fire, the female end away.

“They feel totally different. So, in a smoke condition you know which way to go,” Heberer explained.

Firefighters practiced ladder and rope slide escapes and used their protective hoods to cover their eyes to simulate a smoke-filled interior.

They scrambled around on hands and knees, following the hose line and each other back out after Heberer yelled “mayday.”

“It’s all about communication going in, it’s all about communication when there’s a mayday. It’s all about communication getting out,” the chief said.

Communication has gotten a little easier in the past five years thanks to technology.

Firefighters’ masks are now equipped with an amplifier and speaker to make it easier to talk to each other while fighting a fire.

Capt. Gary McCoy said trying to communicate before the new masks were acquired in 2003 was difficult at best.

“You could hardly understand. Now it’s 100 times better,” he said.

Heberer said the focus of the drills was to improve firefighter safety.

He said the department does a lot of training and outreach in an attempt to protect the lives and property of others but, post 9/11, there has been an additional focus on protecting themselves as well.

State standards require 125 hours of training per firefighter per year, a number easily exceeded in the Johnstown Fire Department, where there are set hours for training every single day.

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