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Firefighters taught to use instincts in drills

By Staff | Apr 1, 2009

Last week, members of the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District took part in two days of Fire Tac Evolution drills, an exercise stressing the basics of their rescue training in a variety of emergency situations.

According to training officer Tim Barrett, the two squads stationed on Sanibel take part in these drills every six months to ensure that when called upon, all members of the team will be prepared – both mentally and physically – to handle whatever fire scenario they might face.

“We do these drills twice each year, once during the day and once at night,” said Barrett. “They’re good for the news guys, but I consider all of the guys new until they’ve been here for three or four years.”

Behind Sanibel Fire Station #1 on Palm Ridge Road, firefighters take part in drills inside a three-story training tower, where on Thursday Barrett filled with smoke by lighting wet bales of hay – donated by Bailey’s General Store – inside the closed tower. Once the bales were ignited and smoke circulated by a portable generator, the first team of firefighters – Capt. Tom Tracy, Ross Nagot and Josh Koza – began to go through their regime of gearing up.

Once fully dressed, with air tanks and masks in place, Tracy and Nagot opened the door to the tower, a thick funnel of smoke billowing skyward. Both men cautiously stepped inside the darkened void, where their drill included making their way up several flights of stairs, through the tower’s second story maze and up to the third floor.

“When you’re in a room that’s filled with smoke, you can’t see from here to here,” said Tracy, holding his hand a few inches from his nose. “And when we’re in those kinds of environments, we have to rely on our instincts. You can’t see anything, so you have to feel your way around. The most important thing is not to panic.”

After the first team entered the training tower, the second team of firefighters – Lt. John Murray, Tim Hannahan and Mike Martin – arrived on the scene with Sanibel Fire & Rescue’s ladder truck. The team attached hoses to a nearby fire hydrant, providing water to be used during the drill, while the vehicle’s ladder was extended to full length to the rooftop of the training tower.

Once arrived on the third floor, Nagot and Tracy opened the three top windows of the tower, allowing any remaining smoke from the now-extinguished bales to rise into the atmosphere. Both firefighters gave the “All Clear” signal, effectively ending the 15-minute drill.

Following the exercise, all of the firefighters and Barrett assessed their performance, noting which areas they excelled at and which ones still need improvement. Fortunately, Thursday’s drills went off without a hitch.

“We do these drills so that everybody is completely comfortable with the equipment and how it is to be used,” added Tracy. “We do this kind of training a lot so that when the time arises to do it for real, we’ll be ready.”