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Raw recruits face tough training

Firefighters prepare to douse a vehicle fire. (© Ryan King / Wreckhouse Press)

By RYAN KING

PORT AUX BASQUES — On Saturday morning, June 5, the fire trucks of the Channel-Port aux Basques Volunteer Fire Department rolled into Grand Bay West to begin their annual firefighting training. They staged trucks at the end of Hopedale Avenue, across from the new municipal depot, and the 11 firefighters, including 3 new recruits, jumped out to get to work. The gray overcast day provided perfect weather for the rigorous training that lay ahead. In previous years the weather had been so hot that the men had often had to seek shade to avoid heat stroke due to the combination of flames and strenuous work.

The morning kicked off with some training on the hoses. The two hoses are quickly unfurled from storage, and promptly hooked up individually for the men to practice wielding them. Taking center stage were the new recruits, John Osmond, Nicholas Seaward, and Benjamin Samms.

Following the directions of the more senior members of the crew, the rookie firefighters each took turns practicing, using the hoses both as a team and also on their own. For the heftier hose, with its 45-pound metal nozzle, the only way to direct the flow of water gushing forth without any help is to sit on it to keep it in place. The new recruits make quick work of it, and practiced shooting water into the empty fields, testing different settings and techniques.

With the hose training complete, and everyone a little wet, the group packed up the equipment to move on to the next challenge. The men were now tasked with something that has not been featured in the training in the last few years – a simulated vehicle fire. The fire trucks pulled into the back storage yard of Grant Motors Ltd. Auto Body. The business was generous enough to loan the Fire Department an old Toyota Echo, and enough space to conduct the training.

Once again, the men hooked lines up to the fire hydrant out front, but this time they ran into an issue. The hydrant was faulty and would not send water. This hydrant in particular had been complained about for years, but has yet to be fixed.

Such a situation may happen at an actual fire, and the fact that the department was properly prepared for that possibility served as another lesson for the recruits. Hooking the hoses up to the truck itself, they would use the water stored in it to douse the flames. Surrounded by the heaps of other wrecks, the car had been stripped of its tires and much of its interior. Diesel fuel was poured into the vehicle and ignited.

With the interior fully engulfed in flames, the new recruits were put to task. They approached the flaming car under the supervision of Lieutenant Greg Cook, who stationed himself behind them, ready to intercede at a moment’s notice should the need arise. The trio practiced various approaches, made adjustments to the nozzle to better understand various effects, such as dissipating heat to ease the approach before completely dousing the fire.

It was then time to pack up and move on to the final location – the smoke house. The current smoke house is a series of interconnected metal Sea-Cans and is used by the department to simulate a structure fire. Covered with rust, graffiti, and bullet holes, the structure looks like it has seen better days.

“We are hoping to get all new buildings in here, this is all going to go. Actually, we’re going to try and do something like Corner Brook has … I’ve seen some pictures, they haven’t got it completed yet, but inside they will have the stairwells … it’s a nice setup what they’re doing there,” said Chief Jerry Musseau.

It was here the men practiced ladder techniques, once again led by Lt. Cook. These included using methods like leg locks to secure themselves from falling, and carrying a man down the ladder.

A small controlled burn was next, this time led by Chief Musseau, that demonstrated the various types of fire extinguishers, the pros and cons of using them against various types of fires, and different techniques to approach the flames with them.

It then was time to enter the Sea-Cans, the final hurdle each recruit much face to serve on the department.

“What we’re going to be doing, once they get their walk through done, we’ll throw some smoke bombs in there first,” explained Musseau. “The smoke bombs aren’t really toxic, and when they’re done that one, we’ll go in and light fires and get some heat and smoke – the real stuff.”

The firefighters then navigated the structure by largely using touch and communication with each other, and then real flames and smoke were introduced for them to extinguish. Inside the temperatures reached up to 400 degrees, and the firefighters took a glove off to test the temperatures from the floor and upwards, illustrating the value of staying low.

With the fire extinguished, the hoses were then turned towards the open door in a wide spray, carrying the smoke with it and clearing the air.

The men emerged from the structure and it was time to take off the gear and pack up again before returning to the fire house. Rookie recruits Seaward and Samms both said they left the training feeling good.

“It was a great experience,” said Seaward.

John Osmond echoed the sentiment.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

All three recruits successfully completed the training.

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