House donation gives Bluffton firefighters a real-life classroom

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House donation gives Bluffton firefighters a real-life classroom

Published Tuesday, March 8, 2011   |  508 Words  |  

With air and time running out, his face mask blackened by thick soot and smoke, Bluffton firefighter David Adams worked quickly to orient himself and find an exit from the home.

As Adams felt his way along the floorboards, he could barely hear the ticking of his air cylinder -- a sign he was nearing the end of his air supply -- over the blaring mayday signal of his alarm alerting other firefighters to his location.

Within seconds, Adams was out of the dark house on Big Oak Street and standing under the sun Tuesday with fellow crew members from Bluffton Township Fire District's Engine Co. 323.

The one-story house on the banks of Mackays Creek near The Sea Trawler Restaurant in Bluffton wasn't really on fire, but it is helping district firefighters like Adams practice rescue operations and prepare for potentially real dangers, said Battalion Chief of Training Rick Cramer.

"It's designed to be a firefighter's worst day on the job," he said. "You're lost, separated from your crew, disoriented and have limited air supply. Their job has to be to try and find their way to a door or window to save themselves.

"Even though it was training, it was very emotional. Most of the guys have never been in that situation before."

Homeowers Felix and Susan Lowe of Bluffton contacted district officials in December after they saw a newspaper ad asking residents to consider allowing fire crews to train with buildings or vehicles before they were demolished, Cramer said.

This is the first time the district has used a donated residential structure for training, an opportunity Capt. Randy Hunter said was "invaluable." Firefighters, in their fifth week of training, will continue the exercises until April, when the house it set to be demolished.

Crews usually train at a two-story, cinder-block structure at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort built to withstand repeated fires, Cramer said.

"The downfall for us is that we don't have a dedicated training facility," he said. "... So when we get an opportunity where we can train in a realistic setting, it's great."

Every district firefighter will complete a variety of exercises in the home, built in 1970, during the 12 weeks of training. Each engine company will rotate so crews get a chance to participate in day and night drills during their shifts, Cramer said.

"It hasn't cost us a thing ... and the more we can train in the district, the better -- and cheaper," Cramer said. "Until this building goes down to the ground, it will be used."

Homeowner Felix Lowe, 77, said Tuesday that fire officials have been pleased with the training. Neighbors have stopped by to watch and meet the crews, he said.

"We were just happy we've been able to help in some small way," he said. "The more effective our local fire and police departments are, the better we are off as citizens."