March 31, 2014

As part of the #FIRECOP social media event, I was able to spend the day with members of the Manhattan Fire Department. First and foremost, I want to personally and on behalf of the Riley County Police Department thank MFD for their assistance and willingness to take part in an event that hadn’t been done before. I was truly impressed by the things I learned and observed first hand. The following serves as a debrief of my experience and is supplemented with a video showing pieces of my training with them.

During #FIRECOP, I got to switch places with Gregg VanDeCreek for the day. He is a Fire Fighter with the Manhattan Fire Department and though we respond to many of the same calls for service, this was the first time I really got an understanding of what these guys and gals do for a living. He spent the evening on patrol with RCPD’s Swing and Midnights Shifts. A major portion of this event was covered on social media.

The day started by trading clothing. Yes, I wore Gregg’s pants. I had never put much thought into how heavy their gear was and after this experience I don’t think I’ll be complaining about the weight of my gun belt.

I was told that I would be participating in an evolution, or a simulated fire filled building. MFD used theatrical smoke to fill a training building; however I was able to walk through the rooms prior to the smoke being introduced. This gave me an idea of the layout, which often times fire fighters don’t get the luxury of having. The training coordinators placed a simulated victim in the building as well, but didn’t tell me or the team I was with where the victim was located. Our mission was to respond, rescue the victim, and finally locate and extinguish the fire… All on our hands and knees.

The building was prepped and we put on our gear. I didn’t end up having to wear a respirator but was assured I would have a tough enough time without it. Since the smoke was simulated, breathing it didn’t pose any health risks.

I was told how to pull the hose from the truck, which was much more complicated than I had imagined. There is a technique for this, which helps to reduce knots and hang ups. I dropped the hose near the entrance to the building and spread it out. Next I was told to kneel on it near the nozzle and give the driver of the truck the command to start the water. Once the hose was ready to go, I was fortunate enough to man the nozzle and be the first in the door. As a cop I love being the first on scene and was really excited to be able to lead the guys behind me (though they are the only reason I made it through the exercise, since I had no idea what I was doing).

Once inside, the visibility was essentially zero and though I had walked through it before, I had no idea where anything was. I was immediately amazed that these guys could navigate through similar situations (I was later told that in an active fire, the smoke and visibility can get worse). Eyes open or closed wouldn’t have made much of a difference; I felt my way through the building room by room (the entire time dragging the hose, with the help of the team).

We located the victim and two of us began to drag him back to the entrance. This was difficult and to be honest when I was completely finished with these couple hours of training, I felt as tired as I am after bike cop training.

With the victim finally out of the building we went back in to locate the fire. This was simulated for training, but we were able to use a handheld tool that detected heat and showed it on a screen (infrared). With the fire located I was instructed how and where to spray the water from the hose. It was a once in a life-time experience for me, as the guys with me were explaining what they were doing and thinking in real time as we completed the training together.

We collected the hose and began to drag it back out of the building. Still on our hands and knees, this was easier said than done.

In total the exercise took 15 minutes and 30 seconds and we located the victim in 9 minutes and 38 seconds. I was told that this wasn’t too far from the times that are normally seen in this kind of training; however I can’t take any of the credit. In fact, I am sure I slowed the team down. Cops and fire fighters joke back and forth, but they really do have a tough job (for the few minutes a week or month they actually work… Bazinga).

Next I was given the opportunity to climb the ladder onto the roof of the building. This would be done in real life when MFD needs to create a vent. Being not so comfortable with heights, I was so excited that they cleared me to do this.

Once up the ladder, with equipment in hand, we simulated cutting a hole in the roof and breaking through the drywall below. With the vent created we went back down the ladder. With the weight of the equipment and the air tank on our backs, this was not as easy as it looked. I moved at a snail’s pace compared to MFD, but I guess that’s to be expected. After all, police cruisers don’t come equipped with a ladder.

Back on the ground, someone mentioned the “jaws of life” and of course I said I wanted to see them. Next thing I knew, I was cutting the car door off of a car… Like butter. In a real deployment of this tool time if often critical in order to be effective.  It took me a really long time to remove the door compared to the time it would take a fire fighter, but either way, I was amazed at the ability of this tool to potentially save a life.

After a day of training and a night of job shadowing the Manhattan Fire Department, I have gained even more respect for this agency and its employees. I won’t be handing in my badge anytime soon, but am glad I could see firsthand how my friends at the Manhattan Fire Department spend their work week.

For more information on this event contact the Riley County Police Department or the Manhattan Fire Department. Details about #FIRECOP are outlined in a formal press release

To follow RCPD on Twitter, visit www.Twitter.com/RileyCountyPD
To follow MFD on Twitter, visit www.Twitter.com/ManhattanFD.