YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — On Monday, a group of future firefighters started their week off by learning how to see through thick smoke.
Specifically, the group, who are students at either the Mahoning County Career and Techincal Center or the Choffin Career and Technical Center who are learning how to be firefighters, learned how to search for people in a house fire.
The students worked with the Younstown Fire Department and the Mahoning County Land Bank.
Split into two groups, they used a vacant home in the 300 block of East Lucius Avenue that is slated to be torn down next month to practice on.
Students entered the house twice before smoke was introduced, crawling on their hands and knees as they would if there were a fire inside, calling out their locations and sweeping the floors with axe handles and pike tools to look for anything that might be there.
The students entered the house two more times when smoke was pumped in and repeated the process. They all wore turnout gear and breathing apparatus.
There were 19 students from TCTC taking part and nine from Choffin.
Youngstown Fire Department Lt. Courtney Kelly, who heads up the program at Choffin, said the training is invaluable for young firefighters because a lot of what they have to deal with on the job can’t be simulated.
As an experienced firefighter, Kelly said one of the things the students need to be trained on is being thorough in their search. Often, she said, victims in a fire will go anywhere inside a house to escape flames or smoke.
“People tend to hide,” Kelly said.
Tom O’Hara, a battalion chief for the Austintown Fire Department who is an instructor at MCCTC, said the biggest challenge for the students were the many corner in the floor plan. There were a lot of nooks and crannies to hide in.
With the limited visibility, students need to learn to rely ways other than their eyesight to find people.
The exercise is a good one for the students, according to John Lightly, a battalion chief for the city fire department. The only thing that cannot really be simulated is the intense heat of a house fire.
The students had mixed reactions to dealing with the smoke.
Kimberly McCann, a senior at Choffin, said the one thing that was difficult was knowing where the firefighter assigned to her was.
“You couldn’t see and you could lose your partner,” McCann said.
Another Choffin student, senior Johaun Whipple, said he had to rely on the equipment lights of the person in front of him to know where he was.
Anthony Schram, an MCCTC student from Sebring who is a Beloit junior firefighter said he was not expecting the visibility to be as bad as it was.
“It was definitely a lot more foggy that I expected,” Schram said.
Jana Kaschak, an MCCTC student from Poland, said teamwork among the students she was paired up helped to navigate through the smoke.