Spokane Fire Dept. develops new training model for rescuing people trapped in a house fire

SPOKANE, Wash. — Our local firefighters have been learning new and safe ways to train for responding to house fires.

One of these trainings is called a ‘fireground search’ — and the way it’s done now is much different and more effective than it’s been in previous years.

This training is not easy — even for experienced firefighters.

In a ‘fireground search’, they’re put in a very challenging situation to prepare for what happens in a real house fire.

It’s an unfamiliar place, visibility is low and they need to work fast to save someone’s life.

This new training model they’re doing has been a year in the making and it was finally put into practice in February once firefighters could safely do it in person.

“Fireground is first developed in recruit school, where we take someone that’s off the street that’s never worn fire gear,” said Deputy Fire Chief Rex Strickland.

They put on their fire gear, a mask and air bottle for breathing and a filter that goes over the mask that mimics a smoky, low visibility environment.

The goal is to search low and search fast for victims in a house fire.

These exercises were done in bare concrete buildings for years — but new data is calling for a change.

Firefighters are now training by searching in a space that is modeled after an actual home.

“The data that we’re getting now from firefighter rescue surveys tells us where we’re making the rescues,” said Strickland. “We’re going to where the victims are in terms of probability. Which are generally the bedrooms.”

This type of training is hard work.

4 News Now’s Destiny Richards suited up, got on the ground and participated in a search exercise herself.

She says just having the gear on was exhausting and something she expected.

What she didn’t expect was becoming disoriented and even wanting to give up when she had no concept of where she was.

“There’s a lot to that in terms of orientation, making sure they keep their composure and are able to navigate their way through different spaces,” said Strickland.

He says the key to getting better is doing it again and again.

“We need to practice that environment more than experience will allow us to just get it through the fires that we go to,” said Strickland.

Once the training exercise is over, firefighters get to see themselves in action.

The entire fireground search is recorded so they can be their own judge and make improvements.

Strickland hopes this new type of training will help firefighters search and save lives faster.

“It’s opened their minds to make the adjustments we need to make in order to provide the best outcome for the victims we go in to search for at every fire,” he said.

Firefighter Rescue Surveys is a fire service crowd sourced portal cataloging an average of 10 rescues a day across the nation.

You can see the data that led to the Spokane Fire Department developing this new training here.

They say this data helps them focus training, strategy, and techniques around successes that would otherwise be lost within the silos of the jurisdictions the rescues were made.