Dr. Howard offers one last learning opportunity for Champaign firefighters

Dr. Howard offers one last learning opportunity for Champaign firefighters

CHAMPAIGN — Firefighters bashed open a glass window on the second floor of Dr. Howard Elementary School on Wednesday, and a substance that looked like smoke billowed out.

Their comrades charged into the basement with a hose, toward the smoky film that filled a back room.

But the century-old building wasn't on fire. Rather, Unit 4 was allowing the department one last use of the building before it's demolished this fall.

"Throughout the year, we do get some opportunities with buildings that are going to come down," Deputy Fire Marshal Randy Smith said. "Very rarely do we get ones of this size, though."

The crew was instructed with only the information they'd receive at a real fire and bolted through the front door, following the thick theatrical smoke down the stairs and into the basement, where the fake fire was hidden away in a back room.

"Then, it's up to the lieutenant, the company officer of the truck, to make those split-second decisions to put that fire hose line in place and extinguish that fire," said Lt. Jason Dillingham, who led Wednesday morning's training session.

After breaking through the glass and crawling through the second-story windows, the firefighters shut the door to isolate the imaginary victims from the fire.

They also worked on victim removals, with dummies placed around the school, and forcible entry, gaining entry into locked rooms.

"We train for this in classroom settings and through videos," Dillingham said. At Dr. Howard, "we're able to get our hands on the equipment and use it in real time just as if this is a real scenario here.

"We don't pre-empt the scenario. We give them the scenario as if it was a 9-1-1 call when crews arrive, and we play off of that. So it's real time, and it's wonderful training for us."

The training will take place throughout the next two weeks.

While the firefighters were destructive to parts of the building Wednesday, they're waiting until next week to cut holes in the roof to avoid opening up the school to the elements.

As temperatures climbed into the 90s on Wednesday, training ramped down early. Because they were in the midst of 24-hour shifts, the dozen or so participants were able to take off most of the 70 pounds of equipment around 11 a.m.

The training, though, and the ability to use a building Dr. Howard's size, which allowed them to alter the locations of the fire throughout the day, was invaluable.

"We may get the opportunity to do ladder training or hose advance training," Smith said. "Here today, we're actually putting all of those skills together. It's as real life as (training is) going to get for us."

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