Training prepares firefighters for real-world challenges
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org May 6, 2012 6:20PM
Updated: June 8, 2012 8:13AM
The morning calm was shattered on an isolated piece of land east of Morris on Sunday as glass exploded, metal crunched and yellowish-gray smoke billowed into the sky.
The exercises were designed to help firefighters cope with the chaos they’ll find at real-life car accidents, fires, industrial explosions or rescue missions.
About 100 firefighters from all over northern Illinois attended the Chief Shabbona’s 12th Annual Pow Wow Fire School at the Exelon Midwest Fire Training Academy off Pine Bluff Road.
They snapped bolts off doors, cracked windshields and popped car doors off vehicles.
In one of the more demanding training exercises, firefighters donned 60-pounds of gear and entered a smoke-filled cargo container set up as a “flashroom simulator.” The exercise taught firefighters how to analyze the color of the smoke to predict a flashover with flames of 1,200-degree heat.
When that happens, “It’s time to get out,” said Braidwood Fire Chief Ken Heberer, who helped organized Sunday’s event.
Firefighters were taught how to cope with the new plastics that may be melting inside a home, or the electric cars that have batteries in the rear.
“Now we even have classes for the (Chevy) Volt,” Heberer said. “You have to be careful how you cut them open because if they’re shorting, there’s live electricity in there.”
Heberer said firefighters also have to be careful not to cut through air bags, which are more and more numerous in cars.
“We remove the power first so the air bags don’t deploy,” he said.
The six-hour training session featured four classes: Basic Firefighting Skills, Forcible Entry Operation, Industrial-Municipal Interface Fire fighting and Rescue and Heavy Auto Extrication.
The extrication scene included a burned out school bus, a dump truck, a box truck and numerous cars. By the end of the day instructor Jon Stratton, Deputy Chief with the Plainfield Fire Department, planned to pile all the vehicles together to teach the firefighters the latest stabilization and extraction techniques.
Students also saw a sprinkler demonstration that showed how a small bedroom fire that ignites curtains could be contained in seconds by the sprinklers, but would burn quickly to 1,200 degrees without them.
The classes provided experiences some firefighters can’t get anywhere else, said Kelly Cavanaugh, manager of the Exelon Midwest Fire Training Academy.
“For some of these volunteer firefighters that are here, they’re from smaller departments that don’t have the resources to do this type of hands-on training,” he said.
The annual training session dates back to 1971 when area firefighters decided to do practice burns, pump relays and extrications at the old Grundy County fairground site in Mazon, said Charles Boyd, fire safety officer with the Braidwood Fire Department. It grew from there and eventually took the Chief Shabbona name for a former mutual aid group for the region.
“Everybody sees firemen at a scene and it looks always organized,” Heberer said. “Well this is one of the things that helps it get that way.”
In addition to the annual training session, the Chief Shabbona group also offers fire academy training from January to June at area fire departments.
Also Sunday, the group honored two longtime fire chiefs: Morris Fire Chief Robert Coleman, who started with the department in 1960, was named chief in 1977 and plans to retire June 30; and Coal City Fire Chief Harold Holsinger, who joined the department in 1972, was named chief in 1991 and retired April 30.