Crawling on their hands and knees, blindfolded and working in teams, members of the Williams Lake Fire Department participated in a training session Tuesday evening at the former Cariboo Lodge site which is slated for demolition.
“These are the things that we train for all the time in case we are ever caught in a building where something changes or we are in a bit of confined space,” said fire prevention officer Joan Flaspohler who led the practice last Tuesday evening. “Because buildings compromise sometimes when we are inside we are always trained to different levels to get ourselves out of that building if we need to.”
Crews were blindfolded because they also train all the time with the possibility of no visibility, she added.
“When we are inside structures, because of the smoke and possibly steam, sometimes they can only see this far in front of us, if that,” Flaspohler said, holding her hand up in front of her face.
“We have to learn to do the vast majority of our work by feel so that’s the practice they are doing tonight.”
The scenario Flaspohler set up Tuesday involved putting hose line throughout the building in different layouts.
Some of the hoses were mixed up and crossing over each other.
Working in teams of three the firefighters also wore oxygen tanks and at intervals throughout, Flaspohler or one of the lieutenants checked the levels.
“This will be the tricky part, leading you guys in,” Flaspohler said as she led the first team to the top floor of the building.
“The communication I want to see is the between the three of you.”
Some of the areas where she placed the hose lines were quite narrow and the firefighters had to take their packs off to fit through.
The hoses went under stairwells, up stairs, over a banister, through wall frames, in congested areas where old garage sale items were placed.
“It’s a bit of a tight fit here,” one firefighter told his partner as they felt their way through a crawl space under a stairwell.
Explaining how they follow the hoses, firefighter Brandon Petterson said in every coupling on the hose there is a male and a female end.
“To find your way back to the pump there is kind of a smooth piece of metal and then a bump bump. Generally ‘smooth, bump, bump’ takes you to the pump,” he said. “If you find the two bumps first then you are going toward where the fire is. So when you are disoriented you find the coupling and you go that way.”
Firefighter Mikayla Arkesteyn said they have used blindfolds before in some of their courses.
“These masks are good practice because you cannot see anything. There’s no light that comes through and you are truly blind,” Arkesteyn said.
Agreeing, Petterson said they have to rely on their other senses, noting he and Arkesteyn have been with the department for three and a half years.
During other training sessions crews did two ladder rescues and busted through some walls.
The plan is to continue the practices at the Cariboo Lodge site until the building is removed to make way for a new 72-care bed facility planned for that location with construction slated to begin some time this coming July.
Watch them here in action at the practice.