The fire roars.
The heat batters you in waves.
The smoke boiling against the ceiling descends toward the floor.
So, what’s your nozzle setting, rookie?
Think fast, since the wrong decision will broil that baby in the crib in the back room.
Don’t pause — set the hose. NOW!
Only hands-on experience can give firefighters the training they need to make such a snap decision, says Payson Battalion Chief Tom Fife.
Payson has maybe a dozen house fires a year — which means a lot of firefighters can easily go a year without adding to their hands-on experience with fire’s behavior in a small space like a back bedroom.
Fortunately, come April, Payson firefighters can practice on real fires inside of a $173,000, live-fire training semi truck, gaining the calm of experience needed to make the split-second decisions that can determine who lives and who dies in the heart of the inferno.
“It’ll be a Godsend,” said Fife, of the impact the mobile fire simulator will have on training.
Currently, Rim Country firefighters generally have to journey to the Valley and beg training time from departments there. Because of budget problems, even that training has been sharply curtailed in the past two years.
“In this kind of a budget, we haven’t been able to do this for quite a while, and having something here in-house will make a huge difference,” said Fife.
The federal Firefighters Grant Program (AFGP) will pay $165,000 for the rig, with Payson contributing about $8,700.
Payson applied on its own for the grant back in 2008 for the basic mobile fire simulator. In addition, Payson teamed up with other fire departments to make a regional application for a $367,000 fire simulator, with a town share of $12,000. The federal government has not yet made a decision on that second application.
However, Fife said other Rim Country fire departments will be welcome to use the new rig when it arrives in April.
At last week’s council meeting, when the council accepted the grant, Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said, “we have no place to do this kind of training — we sort of have to use our imagination. This is absolutely a great deal,” he said. deMasi added that the five other fire departments who had teamed up for the regional application could also benefit.
Vice Mayor Mike Vogel said Payson should be sure to charge the other departments for the privilege.
“It is our intent to extract some cash from them,” said deMasi.
“To ensure we get a return on a $200,000 investment,” said Evans — although 95 percent of that money will come from the federal government.
Fife said the huge, specially designed semi will give firefighters plenty of experience with the chaos and stress of live fire conditions. Trainers can set up mazes, burn a variety of different materials and run many simulations in the 40-foot-long truck, which has a sprinkler system for safety. Such experience with the heat, smoke and confusion can ultimately save lives, said Fife.
For instance, firefighters must often make an instant decision on hose settings, based on their read of the fire.
Setting the hose on a “fog” setting fills the room with tiny droplets of water, which absorb energy quickly and can put out a fire out much faster than a single stream of water.
However, the droplets of water turn instantly to steam. That has two effects. First, it could instantly scald to death anyone in the room. Second, it disburses smoke roiling up against the ceiling throughout the room.
That works great when firefighters are certain there’s no one in the room or house, especially where they can’t get to the flames directly — like in an attic.
But using the fog setting could also prove fatal to anyone trapped by the fire and eliminate all visibility in the room.
“If your primary survey (for people still in the building) isn’t complete, you don’t want to broil them like a lobster. In that case, you want a directed stream of water” to keep the smoke up at the ceiling, said Fife.
The new training vehicle will give both rookie and veteran firefighters live fire experience it would take years to accumulate on the job.
“With this trainer, we’ll be able to introduce people to that situation — because they need to make the decision on a moment’s notice, they can’t stop and think about it,” Fife concluded.