Crews battle five blazes in one day

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Fire drill for firefighters helps to keep skills fresh

On Monday afternoon 15 St. Albert firefighters responded to five calls in Edmonton including a two-storey house fire, a mayday call from an injured firefighter and they managed to rescue an unconscious victim from a basement fire.

Or those were the scenarios they practiced during live fire training.

The five exercises are part of the training St. Albert Fire Services does twice a year at the Edmonton Fire Training Centre located in west Edmonton. The facility allows for training for different types of fire calls in a controlled and safe environment  to keep their skills fresh.

Officers who have been with the department for many years share their knowledge with the rookies as the group runs through common fire calls they might get during a regular day on the job.

Steve Ganton, who has been a firefighter for 29 years, has done many live fire training scenarios and said he learns something new every time.

“We get to come out here and practice and slow things down and do things right,” Ganton said. “It’s invaluable.”

In a city like St. Albert where the fire department doesn’t face a high volume of calls for large structure fires, the chance to refresh their skills is important to make sure they can bring the heat when the big calls come in.

Since March, the fire department has battled three notable fires, including a duplex fire on Heritage Lane which left a family homeless and a fire in Inglewood when a man needed to be rescued from his apartment.

Ganton estimates that around 80 per cent of the calls they respond to are medical calls but when they do receive a call-out to a fire they have to be ready.

After each 20- to 25-minute scenario, the group gathers for a debriefing to talk about how the faux call went and senior officers answer any burning questions the rookies might have.

Senior officers will talk about strategies and share their knowledge from fighting similar blazes over their years on the job.

Connor Dell, who will have his two-year anniversary with St. Albert Fire Services in August, said that the value of the exercise is being able to practice working as a team and learning from the more senior staffers.

“The whole job is about learning from senior guys and especially I have the privilege to be on at a young age, comparatively,” Dell said.

“These guys have all way more experience than me so that is where you learn. Even on a day-to-day level but out here it’s huge. I learn something every single time.”

Even brand new recruits participate in the activities, even if they are not able to get into the burning building.

Derrick Auppelt, who was hired in April, won’t complete his St. Albert fire training until the fall but still participated in the training as a medic.

Auppelt spent several years working in Fort McMurray and in the oilsands battling the blazes but will need to be retrained to work with the St. Albert squad.

“I’m learning the St. Albert way. Every department has their own system and the way they do it. I’m just kind of observing right now,” Auppelt said.

Corey Schram, chief training officer with St. Albert Fire Services, said that the department rotates its staff training so firefighters get live firefighting training every two years.

The team prepares for the event by brushing up on all their skills in the months before they go out to make sure they keep their knowledge fresh.

Each scenario they face brings a unique set of challenges that the firefighters may face in their day-to-day work. As the day goes on, Schram ramps up the difficulty of the calls so the group can continue to build on their skills from earlier calls.

“As each run happens we should be seeing fewer mistakes,” Schram said.

The group also gets the hang of their communication strategies that they would use in a live fire event and Schram notes that it is a very valuable part of the day.

The fires are lit in a designated fire burn building owned by Edmonton Fire Rescue Services and two of their training staff are on scene to help to execute the scenarios that Schram creates. In the past the fires were done with wooden palettes but as the technology has advanced the training centre has opted for propane fuelled fires. The trainers have an off switch for the propane so every scenario can be shut down immediately in an emergency situation.

But not every detail can be perfectly replicated at the fire training centre. The gang needs to rely on information given to them by dispatch and a dash of imagination to respond to the scenarios laid out for them. Sometimes they need to imagine a weak floor due to a basement fire or rescue a dummy from the building rather than a real person.

One of the factors that Schram addresses during the training is the changing construction style of homes and the implications that can have on battling fires.

In older style homes with older construction materials, fires would double in size every minute. Now, with new construction projects using more sustainable, yet flammable, materials fires will double in size every 30 seconds.

Officers now have to assess where the fire is when the call comes in to dispatch and anticipate how large it will be when they arrive. During the practice runs Schram will include that information during the dispatch call so officers can practice gauging the growth of the blaze.

“It’s fast. The officers will cue into that information.”

Along with being an important event for brushing up on critical skills, the group looks forward to the event for some hands-on practice and the chance to have a bit of fun with their friends.

“I work with great guys. You get to go out and have fun with the guys,” Ganton said.

ST. ALBERT ANNUAL FIRE NUMBERS

 

Year                        Fires                    Property loss

2013                          87                       $1,690,352.00

2014                          79                       $1,289,300.00

2015                          71                       $1,653,920.00

2016                          78                       $1,312,851.00

2017                          40                       $1,701,150.00

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About Author

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.