KANSAS CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT TRAINS FOR INSIDE FIRE FIGHTING
Respiratory Protective Equipment Provided for Personnel; Training in Its Use Stressed
CLOUDS of yellow smoke were pouring from the first floor of a building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, when firemen arrived. The first officer inside diagnosed the situation quickly and well. His order, as he returned outside, was “Masks!”
A total of 19 firemen donned gas masks to fight the stubborn blaze in a false wooden floor beneath a concrete floor. But the fire was extinguished with minimum damage, and not a single fireman was put out of action by the dense smoke.
A few years ago, the story of that fire might have had a different, perhaps tragic, ending. In 1940, only two of every eight Kansas City firemen knew how to use a gas mask. And when one of them did, he was considered a “sissy.”
Since then, under Director of Fire Francis “Brick” Wornall and his staff, the Kansas City Fire Department has been developed into one of the country’s outstanding fire-fighting organizations.
Training and retraining, together with standardization of company and individual fire-fighting practices and evolutions, are some of the factors which have brought the 500-member Kansas City department to its present high state of efficiency.
When Director Wornall took over the job in. 1940, one of his first moves was to request the National Bofird of Fire Underwriters to make a comprehensive survey of the department. Results of the survey confirmed officially what nearly everyone had known: that lack of training had undermined morale, efficiency and discipline in the department.
It was considered imperative, said Director Wornall, that a training school be organized immediately. Three instructors were selected. They were men who had sincere interest in the fire service and the development of the department. After progressing through the fundamentals of fire-fighting practices, they proceeded into all phases of the more advanced company evolutions. Then, an intensive officer-training program was instituted. It was believed to he one of the first of its kind in the country, and was intended to develop qualities of leadership in company commanders. All company officers were awarded “instructor’s training certificates” from the University of Missouri.
The training school has done considerably more than train rookies. Every Kansas City fireman continuously is in training, not only at his own station house under the direction of company officers, but at the training school as well. A daily average of six of the city’s 40 fire companies report at regular intervals to the training school along with their apparatus. There, they are put through drills in all phases of fire fighting.
Drillmaster Glen R. Eikenbury emphasized that it makes little difference how long a fireman has been in service —-he needs constant practice to keep in shape, both mentally and physically.
All firemen are graded, by company instructors and by the drillmaster, on ability and knowledge in the use of equipment — ropes, life nets, ladders, hose, etc. In addition, they are graded for qualities of leadership and discipline. These grades play an important part in an individual’s advancement in the department and are kept as permanent records in the files which are considered bv the City Personnel Department when qualifying eligible candidates for promotions.
An important subject in the training of all Kansas City firemen is the use of gas masks. With this training there has developed throughout the department a new concept about gas masks, l’he old tradition that “a good fireman has to be able to cat smoke,” has vaporized in Kansas City. Now, firemen take no chances-and the result has been greater fire-fighting efficiency.
As expressed by one of the younger officers, Captain Emmett Schmitt of No. 1 Truck Company . “There’s no sense taking all that punishment from smoke when you have a mask to wear,”
Captain Schmitt explained that most fires cannot be knocked down quickly from the outside. They have to be stopped from the inside. And, getting inside and staying there until the job is done takes a gas mask.
Captain Roy Brown, also of No. 1 Company, explained that when he joined the department in 1937 most firemen wouldn’t wear masks, mainly because they did not know how to use them properly.
Today, the Kansas City department has standardized on two types of masks. One is the All-Service mask, carried on all pumpers, and the other is the selfcontained Cliernox breathing apparatus, carried on all truck companies and by all deputy and battalion chiefs. Both are canister-type masks.
The Cliernox is used when the atmosphere may be deficient in oxygen or contain high concentrations of harmful gases or vapors, for it generates its own supply of oxygen. The All-Service mask provides protection against limited concentrations of carbon monoxide, smoke and the other gases commonly encountered during a fire.
At the training school, mask instruction begins with a detailed lecture on every component part of the equipment and the technical aspects of construction and operation. The instructor also stresses importance to the individual of wearing masks. Written examinations reveal how much information students have absorbed. If necessary, additional time is devoted to the subject.
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“It’s just good business,” said Chief Eikenbury, “to encourage firemen to wear masks. All the training is wasted if a fireman’s health is impaired by inhaling too much smoke.”
To demonstrate dramatically why firemen should wear masks, the department uses a “smoke house” at the training school. After a smoky fire is built in the 20-foot high brick structure, firemen scale a ladder to the top, descend through an opening, locate the fire and climb back out.
“Anyone who thinks he can do this without wearing a mask soon learns otherwise,” Chief Eikenbury said. “We just let him try it once.”
All in all, the Kansas City Fire Department has come a long way since the days of 1940. One thing is sure, Director Wornall said: “Smoke isn’t going to keep our firemen from putting out a blaze. Our mask-training program has taken care of that.”