Firefighters in training get a hot taste of their future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The smoke around them billowing thicker and darker, the firefighters crouched in a line near the front door of the Lake Meade home Monday afternoon. As anxiousness started to build inside them, the brave souls attempted to overcome it with a rush of adrenaline, soon to be joined by the satisfaction of defeating the red, scorching enemy gutting the home at a fiery pace. The owners had gotten out; now it was time to take out their unwelcome guest.

Their superior gave the signal, and all rushed into the house (they didn’t run – with 80 pounds of equipment covering one’s body, that can be far too dangerous). They noticed that the upstairs had already been consumed, and that the fire had spread across the ceiling.

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Hauling a hose into the house, the men gave the fire something it could never withstand: a steady stream of water. Though several pieces of furniture and clothing had been ravaged, the wet solution took care of the blistering heat, dousing it into smolders.

But the men were still in danger – the back roof was still burning, and smoke continued to swirl throughout the house. Pistol-like shots rang out, the sound of canned goods exploding, sending out shrapnel. Ear-shattering rings pierced the air, the sound of the men’s air tanks running low.

Satisfied that they’d done enough, the fighters lurched back out through the door. Outside, a group of their teammates gave the fire its knockout punch with a giant hose, one so large and powerful that six men were needed to operate it.

As the last traces of the fire were vanquished, the men congratulated each other on a job truly well done. Hopefully, it got them ready for &uot;real&uot; firefighting action.

The event was a training fire carried out by the soon-to-be graduates of the Southside Regional Fire Academy in Portsmouth. Twenty-one recruits took part in the assignment, which is required for graduation. The next class finishes Jan. 30.

Mike Baynor and several other instructors started the fire using whatever flammable objects they could locate. &uot;We usually stack up trash, blankets, wood straw, and other things, and get them cooking real good before everybody goes in,&uot; said Baynor, who has been teaching at the Academy since 1998.

&uot;Usually we have to go to concrete structures and simulate the fire,&uot; said Lt. Braxton Sweat, watching the men fill up on Gatorade, refill their air tanks, and relax in the cool air. &uot;This time, we actually got an opportunity to burn a structure.&uot;

As the men reduced her family’s house to crisp ashes, Marylin Simmons stood outside, filming the event.

&uot;The house was condemned when we bought the area in October,&uot; she said. The Simmons family purchased the 8.5 acres of land (including the house) from the Joyner family, which lived in the home until 1998. &uot;The house has been a bit of an eyesore, and we were afraid that someone might go into it and get injured. We were told that we could donate it to the fire department.&uot;

When she went inside, Simmons was surprised to find that the former inhabitants had left a great deal of clothing and furniture. &uot;The (firefighters) said that that would make it more realistic,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s going to be sad, because the house is the first thing we see when we come home – now it’s going to be a big black hole!&uot;

Despite the danger, claimed future fighter David Legg, it wasn’t too difficult to keep his emotions under control. &uot;I won’t say that I was nervous, but it definitely got my adrenaline up,&uot; he said. &uot;This is what I’ve always wanted to do.&uot;

&uot;We’re never in there by ourselves,&uot; said comrade Joe Jarman. &uot;There’s always someone in there with you. If something goes wrong, there’s someone there to help you out.&uot;