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The Minot Fire Department’s recent high-rise training was an opportunity to practice operations the department doesn’t use often, but it’s still important to keep personnel properly trained.
For the department’s five battalion chiefs, the exercise was also a chance for them to train on directing personnel at the scene of an incident.
While Jason Babinchak and Brent Weber oversaw the entire high-rise exercise, Glenn Hardy, Mason Maxwell, and Austin Burns took turns as the person in charge of the firefighters on scene.
On the second day of training, Hardy monitored and directed the crews from a command vehicle parked across the street, where he had a clear view of the entire scene.
From the command vehicle, Hardy maintains radio contact with firefighters on scene, deciding which firefighters are responsible for various aspects of the operation. He also keeps track of where personnel are at the scene using a large incident board inside his vehicle.
“We use the command board to keep track of who’s going where, who’s doing what, and for making assignments to trucks as they arrive on scene,” Hardy said.
There’s a standard set of duties each truck will take on as they arrive at an incident.
“We always have a pre-plan, but we can deviate from that if we think it’s necessary,” Hardy said. “For instance, we might take the second truck and send them with the first truck if we have a lot of victims.”
Hardy said high-rise training brings unique challenges, even with the limited amount of actual high-rise structures in Minot.
“With any building that has a lot of people, our first concern is rescue. How many people do we have and what do we have to do to keep them safe?” he said. “In this case, we know that the Henry Towers apartments are built as their own concrete cubicle, so in most cases we’d probably recommend residents shelter in place if possible.”
Crews receive information about the situation from Central Dispatch while they’re responding to the scene. Still, they never really know what they’re facing until they get there.
“The first truck on scene is our eyes on what’s going on and really sets the tone for the incident,” Hardy explained. “That captain does a CAN report: conditions, actions, needs. What’s going on? What are we going to do? What do we need? That helps us determine how to attack the situation.”
Firefighters are taught to deal with the floor of the fire first, then the floor directly above it, and then the top floor of the building because that’s where smoke will migrate. They also consider two floors below the fire floor or lower to be a safe space, and often use that location to stage their tools or as an evacuation point.
In the Henry Towers exercise, crews designated one of the building’s two stairwells as a way to remove victims if necessary, and used the other to bring hoses up to the fire floor. They also used the building’s elevator whenever they could.
Wait. Using the elevator during a fire? Isn’t that a bad idea?
“Everyone has been told not to use the elevator during a fire, right? But I’m not sure everyone knows why,” Hardy said. “Here’s why: When we arrive on scene, we are coming with our own elevator key and we will lock that elevator out for our own use, which means you could have people standing on the 10th floor waiting for an elevator that’s never coming. That’s why we tell people not to use the elevator during a fire.”
In the high-rise training, crews used the elevator to remove “victims” more efficiently than if they had carried the victim down the stairs from the eighth floor, where the simulated fire was located. They also used it to bring heavy equipment up to the fire floor.
“If it’s safe, we’ll utilize the elevator to move equipment and victims if possible,” Hardy said. “But we’re also bringing hoses and other equipment up the stairs, so we try to be as efficient as possible on scene.”