“Everybody needs to be on OKC direct 1 before we start,” Assistant Chief Shane Williams told a room of firefighters syncing their radios Saturday morning inside Oklahoma City Fire Department station 13.
It was training day for the crews in Williams’ district, 603. A chance to sharpen their skills and make mistakes in a controlled environment.
The firefighters treat the session like a real emergency, rushing to the vacant house on the city’s southeast side. The home was donated by a resident who was having the building demolished.
“In my district, we're firm believers in training. It's just like throwing a football. It's muscle memory,” Williams said.
But the training is no game. The house was filled with smoke via a smoke machine. The fire crew sent into the home was tasked with searching for a fire lit by a propane tank connected outside.
After prying the front door open, the crew rushed through blinding smoke to put out the flames carrying an extra 60 pounds in gear. With the fire out, lead Capt. David Meyer said the heat reading was above 200 degrees in the small back room, although firefighters routinely face temperatures above 1,000 degrees.
But the training wasn’t over when the fire was out. A firefighter simulates a fall through the floor. Pretending to be unconscious, he’s unable to respond or move. The smoke is so thick firefighters used thermal imaging equipment to help find their way. It's a race against the clock and in the real world, it comes life or death consequences
The physical toll was only half the battle as the smoke and noise are disorienting. Panic and claustrophobia can set in, even for the most experienced firefighter. Making Saturday's training a separate lesson in how to keep your cool among the heat.
When the flames are out the crews gathered for a review, learning what went right and what didn't. Each crew and engine team took their turn to point out mistakes to make notes for next time.
“I think they did really well,” Williams said. “Considering this wasn't a full scale fire alarm, I think they did a great job.”