Topeka firefighters practice with live fire

By Luke Ranker
Topeka Capital Journal – May 6, 2015

Firefighters prepare Wednesday to enter one of two burn rooms at the Topeka Fire Department's training facility. Photos by Chris Neal.

Firefighters prepare Wednesday to enter one of two burn rooms at the Topeka Fire Department’s training facility. Photos by Chris Neal.

A fireman checks the temperature inside the burn room of the Topeka Fire Department's training facility Wednesday afternoon.

A fireman checks the temperature inside the burn room of the Topeka Fire Department’s training facility Wednesday afternoon.

A temperature gauge pokes out from the ceiling in one of two burn rooms at the Topeka Fire Department's training facility.

A temperature gauge pokes out from the ceiling in one of two burn rooms at the Topeka Fire Department’s training facility.

Firemen from Topeka fire stations 1 and 10 listen to a safety briefing Wednesday afternoon before conducting training at the Topeka Fire Department's training facility at 318 SE Jefferson St.

Firemen from Topeka fire stations 1 and 10 listen to a safety briefing Wednesday afternoon before conducting training at the Topeka Fire Department’s training facility at 318 SE Jefferson St.

The currently unused second floor burn room at the Topeka Fire Departments training facility is lined with heat resistant wall panels costing $300 each.

The currently unused second floor burn room at the Topeka Fire Departments training facility is lined with heat resistant wall panels costing $300 each.

Smoke, generated from a smoke machine, runs through pipes on the walls of the Topeka Fire Department's training facility in order to give a more accurate representation of a fire.

Smoke, generated from a smoke machine, runs through pipes on the walls of the Topeka Fire Department’s training facility in order to give a more accurate representation of a fire.

A firefighter inspects the temperature of the ceiling above a fire while training Wednesday at the Topeka Fire Department's training facility.

A firefighter inspects the temperature of the ceiling above a fire while training Wednesday at the Topeka Fire Department’s training facility.

Jack Collie, the Chief of Training & Safety for the Topeka Fire Department, discusses the process behind conducting a controlled burn training exercise Wednesday afternoon at the fire training facility.

Jack Collie, the Chief of Training & Safety for the Topeka Fire Department, discusses the process behind conducting a controlled burn training exercise Wednesday afternoon at the fire training facility.

Fire billowed Wednesday from the first floor of a two-story structure off S.E. Jefferson Street, and firefighters rushed a hose line through a side door.

“Can you feel that heat,” said a voice coming from one firefighter’s radio.

The fire and danger were real, but the situation was a part of a live burn training in the Topeka Fire Department’s new Firefighter Skill and Training Facility. During the week, fire crews from across the city used the mock building, which was constructed last fall, to simulate fires.

Fire crews already are well trained, training chief Jack Collie said, but the facility helps them hone their skills.

“It’s like a scrimmage,” he said. “It’s as close to the game as we can get.”

The simulation gives firefighters a chance to feel the heat of a live fire and study how smoke moves, firefighter Gregg Bahr said. The way smoke moves helps them understand where a fire is or how much oxygen is feeding it, while the color tells them what type of material is burning.

“We read smoke,” he said.

In the first-floor room where crews practiced running a hose line, a burning pile of pallets resulted in temperatures close to 1,000 degrees, Collie said. To keep the men and gear safe, it was brought down to 500 to 800 degrees. Crews practiced spraying water off the ceiling and down onto the fire to control the amount of steam produced.

In the more than $500,000 facility, a set of movable wall panels can simulate a maze of various floor plans, and an organ-like smoke machine pumps fake smoke throughout. Fire crews must navigate dark chambers looking for 160-pound mannequins. On the second floor, crews train on ladder rescue and working in a crawl space. At the front door, crews can practice several types of forced entry, including cutting through metal. Wednesday’s exercise focused on live fire, but a training event planned for the fall will combine multiple scenarios.

“It will really getting rocking in there,” Collie said.



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