From Wednesday to Friday, last week, and on Monday through Wednesday of this week, firefighters from Berwyn, Cicero, North Riverside, Oak Park, River Forest, Stickney and Forest Park converged on the empty Roos Building to conduct training in downed firefighter and smoke to floor rescue scenarios.

The Roos Building, Harrison Street at Circle, is an old manufacturing and warehouse building due to be demolished
shortly. It will be replaced by a new condo project.

“Any time there is a building in the process of getting demolished we set up multi-jurisdictional exercises based on retrospective analysis of a fire ground fatality,” said Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke.

The first session, the downed firefighter scenario, took place last week, Wednesday through Friday.

“It was three, eight-hour-long sessions,” Glinke said. 

In the sessions, a firefighter was “downed” in the basement and crews had to go in and perform a rescue.

“Each day one or more companies from each community participated,” Glinke said. “All on-duty personnel were rotated in.”

For the firefighters, this drill was personal.

“This is a particularly relevant drill because firefighter fatalities have not shown any decrease over the last years,” Glinke said.

In fact, reports Fire Times an online firefighter journal, the number of firefighters who die each year, except for those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, hovers around 100.  Of these deaths, some due to cardiovascular problems, it is the work-related deaths that most affect firefighters.

In fact, last week’s scenario was based on the March 14, 2001 death of Phoenix Fire Department firefighter Brett Tarver at a local supermarket.

Finding and rescuing a downed firefighter, Glinke said, is especially hard because, while most civilians are running out of the building, the firefighter is running in to battle the fire”if they don’t come out, it means something serious has happened.

The leading causes of deaths to firefighters during fires, reports Fire Times, are smoke, thermal insult, structural collapse, getting lost and running out of air.  Any of these scenarios means the firefighters have little time to rescue their friend and a hard time finding them.

“An adult male firefighter, well that person is 200 pounds, and in a blacked out environment, that firefighter has between 75 and 100 pounds of gear on and is immobilized,” Glinke said, describing what the rescuers are up against.  “You have to send multiple companies in to rescue this person.”

For the scenario, hose lines ran in from the door of the building into the basement for about 150 feet.  The victim was placed another 50 feet further in the basement and smoke conditions were simulated with blackened masks.

“It took us on average, three, four-man companies and 30 to 45 minutes to extract,” Glinke said. “It requires a tremendous amount of team work and certainly a little bit of gut reaction.”

The second scenario, occurring Monday through Wednesday, was a smoke to ground scenario, Glinke said.

For this scenario, firefighters practiced using thermal cameras to find victims in high smoke situations.

For this, 55 gallon drums were lit to smoke the rooms, raising the ambient temperature of the area to 120 degrees.

The equipment used is new to the department and allows firefighters to find victims by identifying different thermal signatures.

The hotter the area, the brighter it reads, thus in a dark room firefighters are looking for white signatures, while in a red hot room, they are looking for the darkened silhouette of a person.

In addition, firefighters no longer have to break through walls to find pocket fires in them, as the equipment can pinpoint the fires simply by scanning the walls.