Before unleashing the wrecking ball onto a home about to be demolished, the Oak Bay Fire Department would appreciate having a go at it first.
Joint training exercises just concluded between Oak Bay and Saanich firefighters at a home in the 2000-block of Hibbens Close that is slated for demolition. Real life, house fire simulations were employed as firefighters practiced and refreshed their skills.
“The owner of that home generously offered the Saanich fire department to use it for training scenarios and because of our mutual aid agreement, they contacted us to see if we wanted to be part of it,” said Oak Bay assistant fire chief Don Roskelley.
“The last time we were involved with them in this kind of training was six to seven years ago.”
Due to firehall proximities, a fire in the southwest portion of Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus would see the Oak Bay fire department called out first, whereas a fire in the upper portion of the Uplands Golf Club would see Saanich fire department responding first.
“It’s really important to create some training opportunities that brings together both departments,” Roskelley said, explaining training space at the firehall is limited.
“We get to work in a scenario with more people, 10 or 12, which is more realistic when fighting a house fire.”
The house being used for the current training exercises actually experienced a fire five years ago, said Saanich Battalion C chief Joe Zsidi. The owner is now looking at redeveloping the vacant house and offered it to Saanich for training purposes before demolishing it.
“The owner called us directly,” Zsidi said. “Since we put out the fire in there five years back, he wondered if we would be interested in using it for training and I said, ‘yeah, that would be great.’”
The joint training ended earlier this week and included firefighters engaged in various rescue scenarios. Smoke making machines and strobe lights are used to simulate a house fire and in one scenario, a team of firefighters in full gear, and in constant communication through radio, is tasked to perform the rescue of a dummy from the top floor.
During that rescue, firefighters will be told that part of the floor collapsed, taking down a firefighter who is trapped in the basement with a broken leg – leaving two people to be rescued. In the scenario, the house fire grows and multiple teams need to be assembled to prepare for more problems.
“It’s organized chaos,” Zsidi said. “It’s so dynamic, dealing with fire.”
The joint-training sessions also allow Saanich and Oak Bay firefighters to meet those they may work with in the future under mutual aid and learn about differences in equipment.
While Oak Bay does not get the opportunity to train inside real homes, the Saanich fire department has an arrangement where the municipal hall alerts them when applications are made for a demolition permit.
“We contact the owner of the house and start a dialogue,” Zsidi said. “We’ve been pretty successful, we average two to three houses a year.”
Oak Bay fire department is hoping to emulate Saanich’s program.
“We would appreciate any opportunity to do (training exercises in a real house),” Roskelley said. “We are looking to develop these opportunities more often.”
Anyone with a soon-to-be demolished home for use can contact the Oak Bay fire department at 250-592-9121.