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Firefighters use Claremont for training session

A vacant building at Claremont’s DoubleTree went up in smoke Monday morning. Fortunately the plumes, made from a vegetable oil base, were part of a regional firefighters’ training session.  

The hotel loaned the space to firefighters from the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Battalion 2 earlier this week to provide space for the emergency personnel’s latest round of safety and survival training. Firemen in full gear took turns hurling themselves into the depths of the building, where the windows were boarded and smoke billowed out of the corridors to simulate a life-like situation.

Similar training sessions will continue through January 31 as part of “firefighter survival” month, focusing on the prevention of fire casualties.

“It’s important for us to get together and continue to increase our training and awareness...our lives depend on it,” said Chief Dave Thies of the LACFD’s Battalion 2. “Heightened awareness and increased training are key.”

More than 80 servicemen from stations located in Claremont, Glendora and San Dimas suited up outside the hotel—hose, flashlight and ax in hand— throughout the day to simulate different casualty situations. The smoke was so thick in the building that even DoubleTree personnel admitted trouble finding a way through the usually familiar territory.

While the thick smoke and grueling drills are nothing new to the firemen, even borderline routine, each lesson remains as relevant as the next.

“At the end of the day [firefighters] have a lot of ‘perishable skills’ and it’s important to keep those skills fresh,” said Captain Tim Bloom of Station 62 in Claremont. “It teaches survival.”

As mandated by state law, each month features a series of training sessions dedicated to a specific topic of awareness, according to Captain Bloom. The various scenarios of Monday and Tuesday’s lessons, centered on firefighter survival, reenacted a previous real-life occurrence where a fellow firefighter laid injured and trapped inside a burning building. Firefighters took turns participating in a “rapid intervention crew,” working together to search and save their fallen comrade.

“We take lessons learned and recreate them to see what went wrong,” Captain Bloom said. “Like a Hollywood prop, we are simulating something that has really happened and creating our own post-analysis to see what we can do in the future to prepare ourselves. It teaches survival.”

Though the drills are familiar, it doesn’t make the job any easier. The fire hose itself can be an extra 80 pounds of weight, according to the firemen.

“The average firefighter is 200 pounds and you are carrying gear that averages between 60 to 70 pounds before its wet,” said Captain Mike Davis of Station 86 in Glendora. “It’s like carrying a fifth grader on your back.”

Despite the challenges, repetitiveness, or sheer improbability of situations the firemen are made to reenact, the drills remain a top priority for all involved. The firefighters will continue lessons throughout the month with another set of drills scheduled to take place Sunday, January 22, according to Chief Thies.

“In 28 years, some of the stuff that comes from this ‘think tank’ [of survival situations]. I would never have thought of happening. But no matter how ridiculous it is, the goal remains the sameto not lose a guy,” Captain Bloom said. “It’s important to teach these survival skills, so that situations like that don’t happen.”

—Beth Hartnett

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