Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Wednesday, January 6 (Day 38):

Today’s morning lectures including sessions on department administrative computer systems, on line vacation bidding, and preventing back injuries. I had to miss much of the morning due to a Fire Chief meeting downtown, but rejoined the class just before lunch, and caught the tail end of “Back Injury Prevention.”

Following a quick lunch, we broke into 5 groups for the much-anticipated afternoon sessions: live fire training in the burn building. Fighting actual fires was definitely something we’ve looked forward to. Moving into the burn building for actual firefighting helped mark our continued progression from “classroom” to “field”.....from “civilian” to “firefighter!” Even the icy weather could not dampen our eagerness to get some “nozzle time” on a real fire.

The class split into 5 groups of 4 men each: (one of our members was sent home to recover from a severe illness):

• The “Attack Team” would pull a pre-connected hose line off the truck, advance into the building, and find and extinguish the fire.

• The “Back Up Team” would also pull 200 feet of pre-connected hose off the fire engine, advance into the building, follow the Attack Team to the seat of the fire, and help extinguish the fire in case the primary team lost water pressure or got diverted into rescuing victims (victims were simulated in today’s exercises by mannequins placed in several locations inside the building).

• The “Search Team” would go into the building to search for the fire victim mannequins and open windows for ventilation.

• The “Ventilation Team” would place ladders to the second floor of the building (providing emergency egress routes for fire crews working inside the building). This team also would place a ladder to the roof, place a roof ladder to the building’s peak, and open up scuttles on the roof to provide vertical ventilation of hot gases and smoke from inside the building.

• “The Safety Team” would assist the instructor in starting the fire inside the building, then stand by with a charged fire hose (in the room adjacent to the fire) to extinguish the fire if an emergency developed during the exercise. This crew got a front row seat in watching the Attack Team fight the fire, and they were positioned in close proximity to the fire and got an excellent demonstration of fire behavior, the growth and spread of the fire, smoke layering, and flame rollover (flames at the ceiling burning across the ceiling and spreading into other rooms of the building). It was like the Fire Behavior Simulator Prop on steroids!

We conducted three full evolutions before we ran out of time. I was on the Search Team, then the Back Up Team, and finally, the Safety Team. It was 3 hours of uninterrupted, challenging FUN!

Our four-man search team broke into 2 teams to search the ground floor and basement on the first fire. Larry and I went to the left inside the front door to search interior quadrants 1 and 2, and Tony and Justin took the right side of the first floor (interior quadrants 4 and 3). Larry and I found a smoldering fire and opened several windows while conducting the search, and watched as the Attack Team brought out one of the fire victims. The smoke was moderately thick – I could see Larry’s flashlight from about 5 feet away, but I could not see his actual body – it was like crawling around in a very dense fog. Listening and feeling became the primary senses of choice, but I did use my vision to keep track of Larry’s position (his flashlight beam), and could see the reflective patches on his turnout gear and helmet.

On the second fire, our four-man team (Larry, Tony, Justin and me) served as the Back Up Team. We made our way into the building following the Attack Team towards the back of the ground floor to the stairwell leading to the basement. We were crawling along the left hand wall and discovered a fire smoldering behind some straw and cardboard stacked up in the room (the training fires use straw, pallets, and cardboard for fuel). The fire was unplanned – it had been started accidently by flames coming up a pipe chase from the basement, and we did a good job of finding and extinguishing that fire. We proceeded to the basement and went down the stairs, turning left at the bottom. It was pitch black, and all operations were conducted by feel and hearing only. I was on the bottom step of the stairs and Tony was half-way down the stairs, and I couldn’t even see a hint of him just 5 feet away. I don’t recall even seeing his flashlight beam. Almost immediately when I reached the bottom step, Larry, our nozzleman, found a fire victim about 6 feet ahead of me on the hose line. Tony and I carried the “victim” up the stairs and out the back door of the building.

Tony and I were sent back into the building by Chief Morehead (the Incident Commander for our practice burns today). Our mission was to search the second floor. We searched and opened windows for ventilation as we went, but we didn’t find any other victims before running low of air and having to exit the building. We had searched half the upstairs.

It was an extremely rewarding evolution, and our instructors had high praise for the coordination and teamwork we showed in finding the unplanned fire and rescuing a victim from the basement! We were pumped! I felt very comfortable during the searches – relaxed and confident, and able to maintain my orientation in the smoke and control my breathing so as to conserve air.

Our crew was the Safety Team for fire 3, and Captain Deno did an awesome job of explaining fire behavior and growth as the fire built in intensity. We were able to experiment a bit more than we could in the confined spaces of the Fire Behavior Simulator Prop earlier in the academy: we took off a glove and felt the heat gradient from the floor (cool), up towards the ceiling (it got “hot” about 3 feet off the floor and really hot about 5 feet off the floor). We watched the smoke “mushroom” off the ceiling and come down the side walls of the room, stratifying in progressively thinner layers until it was just over our heads and very hot. Then we watched (fascinated) as the flames flowed across the ceiling of the burn room and “under” the top of the doorway into the room where we were waiting. That river of flowing flames is captivating to watch, but DEADLY HOT. The smoke at the ceiling is essentially poisonous, unburned fuel, and the flames licked across the ceiling consuming the fuel and seeking more oxygen and fuel in the room where we waited with the safety line. Temperature at the ceiling was about 800-900 degrees! Our turnout gear will protect us to about 300 degrees, so it’s critically important to STAY LOW! Most “interior work” is done be crawling, or at best “duck walking” or crouching. The closer your get to the fire, the closer you have to get to the floor. It’s no wonder that firefighters have bad knees after years on the job!

We watched the Attack Team come down the basement stairs and attack the fire, then stood by as they used hydraulic ventilation to clear the room of smoke and heat. Hydraulic ventilation is performed by shooting water out of a window using a cone-shaped “fog” pattern (we adjust the hose nozzle to get this pattern). The cone of water flowing out the window “sucks” the smoke and heat along with it. The technique is a fast and efficient way to get the smoke out of a room, and Saint Paul fire crews often perform this maneuver as soon as the fire in a room is knocked down.

We finished off the day stowing equipment and draining out frozen hoses. My group assisted Training Officer Hawkins in loading up about 30 section of fire hose (50 feet each) and transporting them to a nearby Saint Paul Fire Station (Station 23 on Como Avenue, across from the State Fairgrounds), where we hoisted the hose up into the hose tower, where it would thaw, drain, and dry. We would go back in the morning to retrieve this hose for further training evolutions later in the week.

Day 38 was over, and I was tired but elated. It was a challenging day, and I learned some key lessons about team communications, maintaining orientation inside a smoky building, and getting more comfortable and relaxed inside a burning building. My awareness of heat conditions (sensing it through my turnout gear and gloves), watching how smoke behaved in various ventilation conditions, and using my sense of hearing to maintain team orientation were key lessons learned.

We didn’t do any organized PT at the end of the day. The fire evolutions ran long, and it was already beyond class hours when we finished cleaning up from the afternoon’s practical training. I think most of us felt that we had already “done” our workout today. I had burned up 1500 calories during the 4 hours I worked in full turnouts. Personally, I was OK with missing PT!


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