* pictures are at the end of the narrative for those who just want to see fire...
Hi. For those who care, I took some pictures of the burn house before and after we did our training. I did not take any pictures during the actual event, as I was somewhat busy at the time. A few of us had spent Friday prepping the house, so that when we showed up on Saturday we were ready to go. It went something like this....
The "warm-up" involved getting us all in the house in the big main room, where a couch was set up. The new people, including yours truly, were given front row seats (so to speak) a few feet away. We were fully encapsulated (all covered up) in our gear, and breathing bottled air, and the couch was lit with a small lighter. Within three minutes, the couch was fully involved. The drapes caught and melted, the windows blew out and the smoke layered at the top of the room. Within 5 minutes, if you poked your head above 3 feet you could see nothing at all. Below that layer was clear as daylight -- by this time you could feel the heat through your mask. Soon after we crawled out and the little burn was extinguished. It felt like the first little hill on a roller coaster -- not so bad, but you know there's a lot more to come.
For the rest of the day, Two senior officers -- one of whom is an NFPA certified trainer, would set up a burn in one room of the house, and teams would each perform one role in dealing with it. One team vented the roof (cut a large hole in it to clear smoke); one team did search (crawled around on the floor of the house blind, searching for people); one team managed the "attack" line, one team managed the "backup" line, one team was "RIT" (rapid intervention team -- in case of a down or missing firefighter), and the other team was in "rehab" (chugging Poland Spring water). Each run through like this is called an "evolution". We did a total of 6 evolutions then burned the place into the basement at the end of the day.
Those who know me probably aren't surprised that I've put a large amount of effort over the last six or so months to get up to speed. Because of this, although we had several other new people, it was decided above me that my officers should make an effort to get me as much experience inside as possible. What that means is, I "got" to lead the search and the attack during our turns at that process. Of course, our team (Engine 1 is known as the most gung-ho) was given the attack rotation on the last burn of the day -- the one set to take the house down. For this, we were given a 2.5" hose (rather than a 1.75") and pretty much told there was no way we were going to put this one out, to just attack until we met a standstill and listen to be told when to retreat quickly. This for my first time at bat, so to speak. I was given the following advice that I can recall quite clearly:
1) Go to the bathroom before you go into the house.
2) If you are not attacking the fire, the fire is attacking you -- there is no middle ground.
3) Do not wait. If you do not see flame, move forward. If you see flame, hit the cieling with a burst of water, then sweep the fire in front of you.
4) You will not see anything. If you see only black, its not on fire, so move forward.
5) (from the officer in control of the burn) "if you see me leaving, its time to re-evaluate your position" -- this from the guy who stayed in the house all day setting the burns.
I will say, in truth, it wasn't quite as bad as all that. It turned out that a staircase dropped from the atic early on, and vented the room so well that there was a little less smoke (you could see a few feet) and much less heat (they'd hoped to melt the edges of the helmet a bit). It was still pretty scary stuff. essentially, you can't see anything, you chase the glowing orange. Chase is the real word. You hit it at the cieling with a bit of water and (hopefully) that bit goes out then you push it back and move immediately into the spot where it was and keep chasing. In those few moments when you see anything but black smoke and glowing orange flame or embers, the room is thick with grey smoke and there is floating ash blowing around like a snowstorm. Of course, all you can hear is your breathing in the mask (like Darth Vader only louder) other than the occasional crash of a window blowing out and the yelling back and forth from your team (making sure they're still with you). We backed off (we'd actually put it out further than they'd planned) while the fire banked back up, and I went back a few people to help lug hose around while someone else led. After leading, it felt like nothing -- like you could stay there all day. Having done this now, I can say this: There are guys who will fight to take "the knob" (the nozzel end). I am not one of them. I am very happy and proud to say I CAN if I need to, but I'm also perfectly willing to admit that I'd just as soon be two people back lugging hose. All in all, I went through two full air bottles, so I must have spent around fourty minutes in the building or on top of it.
Here are a few pictures I took before and after. If you want a feel for what it was like inside, the second to last is probably closest, but replace the fresh air and light on the top, with blackness and flame like what's on the bottom. Between the two would be blackness.
I'll get more pictures from other people, and who knows, I may be in one of them -- but you won't be able tell who it is. ;-)