Maximizing Training Evolutions in an Acquired Structure

BY CURTIS RICE AND BRUCE CLARK

This article discusses training options for an acquired structure that will be ultimately torn down. Live-training is the final evolution. We used this structure for hands-on training (H.O.T.) drills and planned to burn it within the next few months. Unfortunately, however, asbestos was found in the subflooring, and the owner had the structure torn down. In our area, the owner is responsible for removing or abating toxic substances before a structure can be demolished. The contractor used a method called “wet demolition” in which the structure is wet down with a hose during the demolition process to keep any asbestos from leaving the area. The debris is then disposed of in an approved dump site.

We found the acquired structure by looking for vacant or abandoned properties in our jurisdiction. This structure sat there empty since the hurricanes of 2006. You couldn’t miss it; it sits across the street from Palm Beach County (FL) Fire Rescue, Station 73, our Belle Glade station, which is undergoing massive renovations.

Being new to this zone and curious about this structure, we began asking questions and found that several of the fire department members knew the owner. It turns out, the owner not only owns this house, but he also lives in the house next door. In these discussions, we learned that the owner wanted to tear down this house so he could expand his current home onto that lot. Buildings that are going to be torn down are among your best choices when looking for a structure in which to train.

You can demonstrate to homeowners how they can potentially save money by allowing the fire department to burn their house. After the wood-frame (type 5 construction) house has been burned, the owner’s cost to remove any remaining items would be minimal. The Internal Revenue Service also allows a tax credit (Noncash Charitable Contributions, Form 8283) if certain requirements are met. This presents a win-win situation for all parties involved.

 

FORCIBLE ENTRY

 

The structure we acquired was a wood-frame house approximately 900 square feet. It had two bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen/dining area, and a separate living room.1 Knowing that we had access to the structure prior to burning it, we started the process by brainstorming to see how we could alter the home to make it work for us. Our first thought was forcible entry.

Since the front door had an inward swing and the rear door an outward swing, we modified them so that we could perform repeated forcible entry training on both inward- and outward-swinging doors. It was designed to use a halligan and flathead ax. For the inward swinging door, we borrowed a simple system used by Miami Dade (FL) Fire Rescue:

  • We bent two threaded rods of medium thickness into a U-shape.
  • We drilled two holes, one above the other, aligned with each other, through both the door and the adjacent wall.
  • We worked the bent U-shaped threaded rods through these holes, put a washer and nut on each, and tightened them to pull the “U” up against the wall on the inside.
  • We then cut off the excess threaded rod (photo 1).

 

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(1) An exterior view of the inward-swinging door prop. (Photos by authors.)

Now all we had to do was insert a wooden dowel or a thin cut strip of plywood through both U’s (photo 2). These wood strips hold the door closed and provide resistance. Use only enough dowel to span the distance between the U’s so you can get multiple entries from a single length of wood. The members must use their irons properly and apply the necessary force to defeat the wood dowel and open the door (photo 3). For the back door (outward), we mounted a sliding bolt on the inside of the door so that, when extended, it is inserted into the door frame (photo 4).

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(2) A wooden dowel secures the inward-swinging door.
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(3) The entry team forces an inward-swinging door.
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(4) The locking assembly for the outward-swinging door.

The bolt should only go in about a quarter of an inch. The intent, again, was to have the forcible entry team using a halligan and flathead ax and the proper technique to move the door away from the frame to allow the bolt to pass and the door to open. When performing evolutions within this structure, crews were required to force the doors prior to gaining entry (photo 5). If they forgot to bring their forcible entry tools with them, they could not enter until they retrieved their tools and forced the door. This approach, we found, solves two problems: It reminds everyone to have a tool with them, and it is realistic training in forcing a door. We wrapped both the door and frame with a piece of metal where the irons go, to extend their life as long as possible for repeated entries.

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(5) The entry team forces an outward-swinging door.

We took the forcible entry a few steps further. On the front door, we mounted a drop-in bar bracket to illustrate one of the many types of security systems found primarily on commercial structures. You can demonstrate how the drop-in bar fits; but, more importantly, it shows the telltale sign of bolt heads on the exterior of the door (photos 6, 7). Now that the firefighters knew what they were looking at, we took a 2 × 4 about two feet long and predrilled it so we could insert four or five carriage bolts (photo 8). These holes hold the bolts firmly in place for cutting. For practice cutting the heads off the bolts to gain access through a rear door, we chose the 3⁄4-inch bolts. They are relatively inexpensive and fit in a 2 × 4 easily. The student must cut the bolt head off by holding the saw at a very sharp angle (photo 9). Once all the bolt heads are cut off, flip the 2 × 4 over, drive in a new set of bolts, and repeat. You can get many cuts out of a single 2 × 4, but have a few spares available. Secure this 2 × 4 to the structure with one or two screws, or it will move when you cut.

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(6) A drop-in security bracket.

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(7) Bolt heads on the exterior of the door securing drop-in security hardware.
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(8) This cutting prop is used to practice cutting the head off the bolts
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(9) Crews practice cutting off bolt heads and securing the drop-in security hardware.

To simulate cutting bars found on windows or doors, we made another forcible entry prop that we have seen at many conferences. We took a one-inch gate valve along with a tee, some short nipples, and a flange and mounted the prop on the exterior wall. We made two of these so that once mounted they would allow us to simulate cutting both horizontal and vertical bars. We used 5⁄8-inch rebar, but other sizes will work also. Put the rebar through the gate valve; then tighten down the valve so it acts like a vise to hold it in place. A short piece of rebar extends out of the valve so that the students cut only about a one-inch piece off at a time. This allows many cuts from a single piece of rebar. We had the firefighters make two cuts on both the horizontal and vertical rebar (photos 10-12). They cut first with their right hand controlling the saw and then switched the saw to their left hand. This allowed them to practice using their dominant and nondominant hand. In between cuts, each student had to stop the blade from spinning before moving to the next cut. This reinforced the need for safety when operating with a cutting tool that has a blade turning at several hundred revolutions per minute.

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(10) The valve assembly for cutting window security bars.
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(11) Cutting simulated horizontal window security bars.
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(12) Cutting simulated vertical window security bars.

To simulate cutting a padlock, such as can be found on garages, storage units, or heavy rollup doors on commercial structures, a section of large chain can be attached to your training structure by a hook or by securing it around something attached to the building. The last link in the chain is held with a pair of locking pliers, to simulate controlling the padlock during cutting operations. These locking pliers have a short piece of chain attached to them. The crew member assisting pulls on the chain attached to the locking pliers, which puts tension on the simulated padlock (training chain), and then the member with a power saw cuts the last link, to simulate cutting off a padlock. Using a length of chain allows many practice cuts from a single piece of chain (photo 13).3

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(13) Firefighters practice cutting a simulated padlock.

Since we knew damage to the structure was not an issue, we wanted a way to simulate venting a window as well as removing the sash in case of the need for an entry or exit.

 

Creating a Sash

 

To create a sash, we used the following system we saw at the Orlando Fire Conference:

1. Remove the window from the rear bedroom on the B/C corner.

2. Frame it with 2 × 4s.

We measured to the middle of the window (top to bottom) and drilled a hole on each side (level); one side was deeper than the other. We cut a piece of ¼-inch rebar a little wider than the 2 × 4 frame. By inserting one end of the rebar into the deeply drilled hole, we could then put the other end into the shallow hole on the other side and slide the bar in. This holds the bar in place to simulate a sash in a window (photo 14).

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(14) A sash prop.

 

Creating a Removable Window

 

1. Cut a piece of ¼-inch plywood into four 10- × 36-inch pieces.

2. Attach self-fastening strips to these pieces.

3. Attach the opposite type of self-fastening strips to the 2 × 4 frame you built to hold the sash.

4. Attach these four pieces of plywood to the frame, using the self-fastening strips to function as a window (photo 15).

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(15) Simulated window panels.

To simulate forcing a window, use the tool you brought with you to knock out each of the wood pieces to open the window. As stated above with forcible entry, if the firefighters go to the C side without their tools, they must retrieve the proper tools and return to the window to be able to vent it (photo 16). Once vented (the wood panels have been removed) to clear the sash, trainers must use their tool to strike the center of the sash (rebar), which will bend it enough to cause it to fall out. Again, without a tool to accomplish this, they will not be permitted to enter the window, nor will anyone inside be able to exit from that window until the sash has been removed (photos 17, 18). This rebar can be straightened and reused many times.

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(16) Venting a simulated window from the exterior.
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(17) Removing the sash from the interior.

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(18) Removing the sash from the exterior.

I’m sure that by now you can see that although these props are not the genuine articles, they do force you to bring tools with you at all times and to use them in the same manner as you would for a real operation. In addition, they are very cost-effective.

With this window removed, you can use this room to teach and practice proper ladder placement and working angle, vent-enter-search (VES) techniques, as well as how to remove an injured firefighter through a window with and without an SCBA. Since the window on this structure is at an odd height, we acquired a broken extension ladder and cut it down to fit below the working height of our roof or extension ladders. Using both sections, we made two ladders so the students could practice removing a firefighter with two rescuers working side-by-side on two ladders or using one ladder at a single rescue. (photos 19, 20).

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(19) One firefighter removing a downed firefighter out a window.

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(20)Two firefighters removing a downed firefighter out a window.

The lightweight truss roof system was exposed in our acquired structure, allowing us to establish a high-point anchor system so that any time a firefighter was removed through the window, he would be on a belay system to ensure his safety.

 

ADDITIONAL PROPS

 

In addition to the training props discussed above, we also constructed additional props inside to allow us to practice search drills, rapid intervention team operations, and SCBA confidence drills. We were able to run the entire battalion through Mayday training in this acquired structure using the National Fire Academy (NFA) Mayday curriculum. Our members received an NFA certification in Mayday operations. Because the structure was going to be torn down, we were able to cut a hole in the floor; this allowed us to teach and practice the Nance drill using both the handcuff knot and a hoseline to get the firefighter up and out, as well as to lower a rescuer into the hole. Some other types of training we completed were positive-pressure attack and roof ventilation, size-up with situational awareness, hose management, and multicompany fire attack drills.

 

•••

 

Acquiring a training structure enabled us to have unlimited access to an incredible training facility. We are grateful to the owners of this property.

 

Endnote

 

1. You will notice from the photos in the article that the house appears to be up on stilts. We are located on the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee, in southern Florida. Since there have been constant discussions about the possibility of the failure of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds the lake, it seemed like a good idea to build on stilts, which, in fact, are nothing more than pilings. The soil in this area is comprised of a very organic soil called “muck.” The area is home to thousands of acres of sugar cane and vegetable and sod farms. Muck basically eats itself up through natural decay. By looking at the photo and seeing the pilings, you would never know that when the home was originally built, the soil level was very close to the bottom of the structure. Over time, the muck decomposed, giving the appearance that the home is built on stilts. To correct this, it is common for owners to add more muck to bring the yard level up to its original height. From a firefighting standpoint, all these old homes, by virtue of the shrinking soil underneath, have developed a basement. Unlike a standard basement, this void space has no windows or doors, should you fall through the floor. This type of soil, because of its organic composition, also burns.

CURTIS RICE is a district chief with Palm Beach County (FL) Fire Rescue in the 7th Battalion. He is a fire inspector, live fire instructor, and paramedic. He is an adjunct professor at Palm Beach Community College and is a lead instructor for departmentwide training.

BRUCE CLARK has 21 years of service with Palm Beach County (FL) Fire Rescue and is a station officer assigned to Engine 33. He is a recruit academy instructor and an advanced firefighting instructor. He has developed firefighter survival programs and trained firefighters from many area departments.

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