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Arlington firefighters hone their skills

ARLINGTON — How do firefighters practice fighting fires?

By starting fires, studying them and then fighting them.

That’s just what 40 firefighters from Arlington, Arlington Heights, Oso, Silvana and Getchell did on Feb. 27, when they conducted a training fire in an empty building to keep their skills sharp and to help educate Arlington City Council members on the scene who were there as observers.

A large single-family residence with a basement at 5530 Cemetery Road served as the site for the firefighters’ five training objectives which included studying the behavior of an actual fire, deploying their Rapid Intention Crew into the house, creating vertical ventilation in the structure, going through their Incident Command and Control procedures and answering Council members’ questions about the day’s operations.

“We usually arrive after fires have started, so we wanted everyone to see the inception of a fire,” Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman said. “Different types of fires require different types of spray patterns from our nozzles. You don’t want to go in with a fog pattern if it’s going to turn to steam and bring down even more heat, but multiple nozzles using a fog pattern can push fires away from flammable tanks.”

Stedman explained that Rapid Intention Crew are the rescuers’ rescuers, designated by law to seek out and retrieve fallen fellow firefighters from precisely the sorts of smoke-choked environment that the day’s training had created.

“It takes about nine to 12 of them to extricate one of our own safely,” Stedman said. “They have to be able to switch out oxygen tanks and navigate through a softening structure.”

Stedman noted that vertical ventilation is necessary to allow the heat inside of a burning building to escape, but pointed out that it’s also highly hazardous on account of requiring firefighters to cut holes in a roof, while they’re standing on that same roof with fires burning literally right under their feet.

“You have to be careful not to slip off the roof, but you also have to work fast enough that the fire doesn’t demolish the building beneath you before you’re done,” Stedman said.

Incident Command and Control coordinates the operations of all the firefighters on the scene, ensuring that they work efficiently and safely, while keeping track of everyone’s whereabouts and activities, as well as assessing whether additional resources are required.

“Our priorities are firefighter safety, incident effectiveness and reducing liability, in that order,” Stedman said. “We want to make sure we’re doing the best job of fighting fires that we can, but if your firefighters get hurt, that’s a resource that can’t be used to fight other fires.”

Stedman added that firefighters spent hundreds of hours training in preparation for the training fire itself.

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