Battalion Chief James McLaughlin remembers hearing those words during an incident about two years ago. Fellow firefighters were trapped in a house fire.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” he said describing how he imagined the two firefighters becoming disoriented, maybe losing their air packs and trapped by burning debris. In this case, the fire had gotten behind the firefighters, they couldn’t get out of the basement. That incident ended happily. The firefighters got out.
McLaughlin wonders about the next time.
Although there are fewer building fires nationally than there have been in years past, McLaughlin said about 100 firefighters are lost every year in fires. In many cases, they are close to safety and other firefighters are nearby. Taking the right steps and doing it in time are critical.
In recent years, McLaughlin observed, the department has received grants to buy some of the most sophisticated and state-of-the-art fire fighting equipment.
“You can replace all of those things, but you can’t replace the guys,” he said.
With that thought in mind, the department is using $741,000 from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to train all firefighters in rapid intervention. The grant is also being used to purchase equipment. Teaching the 40-hour course are firefighters from across the country that take time out to be instructors. The program is run by P. L. Vulcan Fire Training Concepts, named for a highly respected New York City firefighter, Pete Lund, who volunteered his time after retirement. He died while assisting to fight a fire, Ray Griffin said Tuesday.
A New York City firefighter, Griffin was the lead instructor during an extrication demonstration held in the former fire station at Green Airport. With more than two-dozen Warwick firefighters looking on, Griffin stepped through the measures he would take to assess the condition of a fallen firefighter, as played by another member of the team. Over the high squeal of a personal alarm, he first determined if the man was getting air. Then he acted to drag the man to safety. Assuming they were in a situation where they couldn’t see because of rising smoke, he fashioned a harness from the straps of his own air pack, positioned himself over the fallen comrade and crawled, dragging the limp man with him.
“You’re using your hands, your head and brute force,” Griffin said, once he regained his breath.
Each of the department’s more than 200 firefighters will go through four 10-hour training sessions by Sept. 27. The department’s command personnel will be trained and department personnel are being identified to become trainers so that the training is done periodically in years to come.
“The best training tool is experience,” says Griffin.
The department’s grant-writing team secured funding for the training.
“It is going to help save our own,” said Lt. Jason Erban, who helped write the FEMA grant.
Chief Edmund Armstrong said the department found it difficult to come up with a site that has a classroom as well as an open space to carry out demonstrations and training. He said when the Rhode Island Airport Corporation offered the former fire station; it was just what they needed.