We’ve all seen the movie, a firefighter lost, trapped, or immobilized in a burning building. This drama usually progresses with a mayday being called, other firefighters being sent in to find the firefighter and bring him to safety. Rarely do you get to see what a real firefighter does during the time after he realizes he is in trouble, calls a “mayday,” and his buddies begin the task of locating and rescuing him.
Built by themselves, Gordon County firefighters recently underwent a grueling “maze” of obstacles to simulate the multitude of scenarios they could potentially find themselves in during any type fire that requires their entry. Entering an unfamiliar building when it is on fire and full of thick, acrid, black smoke, and not being able to see your hand in front of your face is a very dangerous situation to put yourself in. A firefighter never knows what he will encounter. “If a firefighter becomes trapped and unable to move, he has to remain as calm as possible and rely on his training,” said Division Chief of Training, Blake Hodge. “Remaining calm allows the firefighter to think about the situation instead of becoming panicked. This gives the firefighter the possibility of self-extrication from the situation, thus giving the firefighter every opportunity to survive. Knowing what to do in these situations is something that is imperative every firefighter learn in a controlled environment, not when they find themselves in the mayday situation in real life.”
Chief Hodge, with the help Lieutenant Greg Hasty and the crew of C Shift, Sta. 1, spent several days driving nails and screws and constructed a maze of obstacles to simulate every type of situation they could think of. A search of YouTube revealed other scenarios they thought were great ideas but had not thought of, which they incorporated into the maze. “I’m quite impressed,” said Deputy Chief Byron Sutton. “They would disappear after morning apparatus check and reemerge at lunchtime. I knew they were doing something constructive, but I had no idea they were constructing such a valuable piece of training material that could potentially save their life one day. I’m very proud of Chief Hodge and all those who helped construct this invaluable training aid. These guys continue to amaze me with their constant ingenuity and fortitude. Of course, that’s what firefighters are known for. The ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome is the premise of this whole training evolution.”
“We have minimal cost in this project,” said Chief Hodge. “We used materials we already had around the station, some were donated, and we purchased some. The cost to the taxpayers was very minimal compared to what it would have cost to send every firefighter to the State Training Center for this training.” Having been in construction at one point in his life, Chief Hodge is no stranger to a hammer and a nail, so building the maze was easier than actually figuring out the layout of the many different obstacles. The obstacles consisted of an entanglement drill of wires, over and under very narrow and tight spaces, searching a wide area, dead ends, room entry with door closure behind the firefighter, and even a simulated floor collapse (firefighter lands in foam bed for safety) with simulated material falling on the firefighter.
“Overall, we had a range of emotions from the firefighters concerning the maze,” said Chief Hodge. “Some were anxious to get in it; others were optimistic about their abilities.” But Chief Hodge had each firefighter go through the maze one at a time in order to spend that one-on-one time with each firefighter, ensuring safety, and coaching at the same time. Chief Hodge also said, “The objective here was to give each firefighter the opportunity to experience, under a controlled environment, the perils of being trapped, being low of air, and learning to instinctively know to notify the Incident Commander when they find themselves in trouble. This ensures that the Rapid Intervention Team can begin their task of finding that firefighter and rescuing him before he runs out of air. A secondary objective was for each firefighter to know what to do after calling the mayday to try and self-rescue themselves. From the rookie to the oldest veteran, ultimately, I think every firefighter took something valuable from this training. It was worth all the sweat and hard work we put into constructing the maze. I hope none of our firefighters ever have to utilize the training they’ve received during this evolution, but if they do, I’m hopeful this training will come back to them at the time they need it most.”