Delano firemen train under actual fire conditions
CHIFE FRANCIS X. MULVEY
Photos by Bill Swanso, Delano
MANY FIRE officials would like the opportunity the Delano, Calif., Fire Department had to conduct an actual structural fire training program. At the same time; the department cooperated with other city departments to remove a structure condemned by the city council.
Most structures available for training under actual fire conditions are small and in such condition that little more can be done than to stand by with outside hose lines to protect exposures and keep the embers from flying about the neighborhood. However, the old Pioneer Hotel at Tenth Avenue and Jefferson Street, a block south of the civic center and one block east of the main commercial area, was in sound condition. The exposure hazards were slight, and there was sufficient area for fire department operations. After removal of the building, the area was to be added to a municipal parking lot to relieve the parking problem in the business district. Tire old hotel structure was approximately 65 by 38 feet, two stories and attic, wood-frame construction, partitions standard 2 by 4-inch studs with 1-inch plasterboard covering. It contained 20 rooms or areas suitable for fire training. Windows and doors were in place, and in general, the building was in good condition.
Members of the fire department spent considerable time repairing broken plasterboard, rehanging doors, etc. To provide a normal fire load, a campaign was started to find sufficient furniture to refurnish the hotel. The slogan “Help Your Fire Department and Help Yourself” was used. Newspapers and radio pointed out the advantages of getting rid of old furniture accumulated around the home. The citizens responded, and members of the fire department picked up enough furniture, mattresses, rugs, etc. to refurnish the 20 rooms. At the same time this clean-up removed some serious fire hazards. All service connections (water, gas, and electric) were cut off; water, sewer and drain pipes were removed from the exterior of the building to reduce hazards of injury during the training exercises. The stage was now set for the two-week training program.
Planning for the program was coordinated by Richard W. Nevins, fire training instructor, California State Department of Education; the writer, and Captain Jesse Behrnes of the Delano Fire Department. Mr. Nevins had considerable experience in this type of program, and his help and technical assistance throughout the entire program was outstanding. It was decided that 14 fires or incidents could be completed during the two-week program. The preliminary program was submitted to Raymond F. O’Hara, city manager, for his approval and comments. It was decided that the weeks of July 11 and 18, 1960 would be the most suitable time. Letters were sent to 14 fire departments in the area inviting them to participate.
During the week of July 11, classes in planning the program and fire fighting strategy were held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. for a total of 15 hours per man. Size-up, rescue, exposures, confining the fire, extinguishing the fire, ventilation, overhaul, and salvage operations were covered. The results of a final examination showed that considerable knowledge was gained from the classes. The average attendance each evening was 25 Delano members and seven from outside departments. The classroom work was coordinated by Richard Nevins with Chief Mulvey and Captain Behrnes assisting.
The week of July 18 was devoted to actual fire fighting operations at the old hotel. The prime purpose of the entire training program was to gain actual fire fighting experience under control conditions, rather than technical information such as temperature rise. Fourteen fires were set ranging from a simple mattress fire to a four-room fire on the second floor. Three simulated rescues were carried out at various times. The average attendance for this week was 31 Delano members and 14 from outside departments, for a total of 15 hours per man. Men from Shafter, Bakersfield, Tulare, Tulare County, Wasco, Strathmore, Pixley, Earlimart, Richgrove, Terra Bella, Kern County, Porterville, and Waukena took part in the program.
The fire fighting program was set up with five attack teams of four men on each team. Each attack team had a back-up team of four men to be used if necessary. The officer in command of the attack team was held responsible for evaluating the conditions and taking proper action. A team of qualified evaluators was selected to cover all angles of the fire, and after extinguishment, the evaluators pointed out the good and bad features of the attack. A command post was established, and the commentary over a public address system apprised the large gathering of spectators of what was going on inside the building.
Prelaid hose lines were placed to save time each evening, and the attack teams could select whatever lines the officer thought were necessary. Throughout the week the members involved id the fire fighting gained experience that would have taken years to accumulate under fire conditions. A definite pattern of aggressive fire fighting was established; all attack and extinguishment was made from within; all operating conditions were extreme; the outside tempertures ranged between 100 and 115 degrees, and veteran observers estimated the interior fires in the 1,000 to 1,500-degree range.
Officer leadership was stressed. The attack teams, made up of four men, were charged with the responsibility of extinguishing the main body of the fire; the back-up team was to cover extensions. Small teams were used to equate the number of men normally at an actual fire.
Three rescues were made with firemen acting as the victims. Two of the 14 fires deserve specific mention. One fire was set in the north section of the first floor and allowed to gain considerable headway and to extend to the second floor. It was extinguished with 150 gallons of water in eight minutes. A four-room fire on the second floor was allowed to gain considerable headway and intensity before starting the attack. It was extinguished with an estimated 500 gallons of water in 15 minutes and one 1 1/2-inch hose line with a combination spray-straight stream nozzle.
It should be mentioned here that Richard Nevins had a free hand in selecting the location, size and intensity of each fire. The type or location of each fire was not known to the attack teams or the evaluators. When it was thought that the fire had reached the desired intensity to give the teams a good battle, the attack signal was sounded, the officer in command had to locate the fire and decide what equipment was to be used and the manner of attack.
The final bum-down of the building was on Friday, July 22. The fire was started in the northwest corner of the structure to take advantage of the slight wind, and the fire spread rapidly. Within 25 minutes the building had collapsed, and four hours later all lines were removed from the scene. Preparations for the final burn-down were quite extensive. All possible exposures had to be covered and flying brands had to be controlled. A deluge set was used to cover the southeast end, 2 1/2-inch lines were placed to cover other exposures, and two fire department pickups were dispatched to cover the area for flying brands. Not one fire resulted from the bum-down. No injuries were reported for the entire operation, although, due to the extremes of temperature, a few men were treated for heat exhaustion.
Good public relations
It was a very successful training program. Although the Delano Fire Department has always stressed good pubic relations, this program helped to show the spectators that they had an aggressive and well-trained fire department. It also served the purpose of educating the public (through the use of the public address system) in how and why fire departments operate in a manner that at times seems to confuse the public.