A group of trainees at the Bayside Volunteer Fire Department tested their mettle on a live fire this weekend.
It’s part of a recent addition to the island: the nationally accredited Firefighter One course, which teaches aspiring rescue workers the ins and outs of being a firefighter.
The course began in October, and according to Bayside staff and volunteers, it’s the first time the live fire training has been held in several years.
Bayside Fire Chief Howard Rue gives a safety rundown in the fire department.
There are roughly a dozen trainees in the room, but there are also a number of people filling other roles, like engineer and safety officer. There are even rescue workers for the rescue workers, all on hand for this part of the class.
Rue says the Firefighter One course is a collaboration between Bayside and the Kodiak Fire Department. It’s also the first time, as far as he knows, that Bayside has had such a course.
“I wanted to get some certified firefighters. Working with Chief Mullican, we started when I first got here to get this program going, and it follows the state’s guidelines for a firefighter one course. So, it’s basic firemanship, all the way through from tying knots, raising ladders, to extinguishing the fires.”
The live fire is perhaps the most anticipated part of the course, according to some. Denis Dube, who works at Near Island Supply, says it’s the first time he’s done a live fire and he’s excited.
“Yeah, should be fun… we feel really comfortable because we’ve got very experienced guys looking out for us, so we know it’s not going to be too crazy. Not like a real fire when we don’t know what we’re walking into.”
Reid Johnson, a biologist in his day job, says he’s tackled fires before, but this simulation is another chance to apply what he’s learned.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a good time, and it’s a good opportunity for training.”
Commercial fisherman Adam Ross is also pretty confident.
“I mean we’ve been through a lot of training. We’ve trained for this for what – like five months or something, so I guess you can’t be more ready right?”
Everyone gears up and loads into either the fire truck or the Bayside bus – which will be used as the recovery and warming station.
It’s a quick drive to the property next door, where what looks like two storage containers have been set on top of each other. Inside, there are piles of
palettes, hay, and other flammable material nested at opposite ends of the boxes.
And members of the fire department take a torch to them.
In each round of the exercise, the trainees and their team drive the fire truck off the property, fill the tank up with water, and come back to put out the fire. A more experienced firefighter accompanies them, and several people stand by in case of an incident.
The second team to get a turn prepares outside one of the doors, and then gets the signal to go ahead.
Johnson was one of the first trainees to complete the exercise and says he came out breathless, thirsty, and hot.
“I mean the heat of the fire, you’re protected from that by your turnouts, but when you hit the fire with water, the steam, your turnouts don’t do as good a job protecting you against that, so once you start putting water in the fire, even though it brings the temperature down, it makes you feel a lot hotter. Very fast, too. Like when the steam hits you it’s like a blast.”
According to Bayside’s Lieutenant Jason Wagner, the trainees still have roughly 40 hours left in the course and the next step will be a final examination with an off-island course proctor.