-  Sandy Fire Districts academy teaches practical skills Feb. 15

Few people could manage being shut into a pitch black space and maneuvering through a crawl space maze, all while carrying 70 pounds of gear and breathing air from a tank on their back.

This challenge is simply a lesson for fire recruits as they continue their firefighting education.

At their first Saturday practical lesson Feb. 15, the Sandy Fire District’s 2014 class of recruits practiced preparedness for search and POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Sandy Fire 2014 recruits Bauer, Brener, Bieker, Johnson, Rutledge, Hart, Pearson, Cullen, Wilson, Vasquez, Escobedo and Scobert.

The fire district’s recruit academy consists of weeknight lecture classes and all-day Saturday practical lessons. Last Saturday’s class had the recruits rotating through four stations to get them acquainted with their gear, each other and how to manage those skills when conducting a search and rescue.

While Capt. Jason McKinnon, training officer, went through physical testing with recruits, other firefighters who volunteered their time to help the recruits ran the other stations.

Volunteer Engineer Jeremy Parker said a bunch of them enjoy helping out with the trainings because it keeps them fresh as well.

A few instructors stayed in the garage at the station helping recruits learn how to put on and remove their gear properly. Their goal Saturday was to help them get comfortable with the routine. Come testing time, the recruits have to be fully geared correctly in less than a minute, Parker said. by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Recruits also practiced donning and doffing, getting comfortable putting on and taking off their gear, a skill they will be tested on later.

The recruits also learned and practiced how to refill their air tanks, which were used at another stop in their rotation.

Behind Sandy Fire sits a large metal container, the kind carried by semi-trucks. The inside is painted black and outfitted with metal movable pieces that make up a crawl space maze. Recruits got to practice the maze once with their search teams, experiencing the obstacles and communicating with each other, all while fully equipped in their gear. The second time around, recruits had to put on their masks, connected to the air tanks on their back, and go through the maze again, this time with the door shut, blacking out the maze completely. by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Recruits also practiced search within the maze container behind the fire house; Jeremy Parker thinks its a fun learning tool, but not everyone agrees.

Directly behind the container is a vacant building that the fire district uses for practice as well. The upstairs of the building had structures, mattresses and other debris spread around to hinder a search and rescue operation. Hose lines were spread around the upstairs and charged with air to make them feel more real.

Volunteer firefighter James Thomas explained to recruits that a hose filled with water directs them toward the exit. “That’s your lifeline, your way out,” he said.

The recruits were taken to the second level, where they were to conduct a practice primary search and rescue in all their gear. Parker said the exercise was one of the first times they’ve had to maneuver around with their masks on.

“We want them to learn what it’s really like in that environment,” Parker said. “If we can train like we fight and get them acquainted, then it’s all the better once it starts.”

Parker emphasized how important it is for the recruits to learn to communicate with each other, so they always know where the rest of their team is. They practiced that communication all the way down to the district’s passport system. Once training is over and the real thing begins, each team that goes out into the field carries a passport, which names every firefighter who is on that team.

The passport system is a way of keeping track of each other. Parker said they make the recruits practice it now so it is ingrained in them later.

During their the first practice search, recruits conducted a small area search, maneuvering along the wall, always in contact with each other physically and verbally.

“We’re looking for them to work together, to communicate,” Parker POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Fire recruits conducted a practice primary search with their masks blacked out. The goal was to communicate with each other and get comfortable in full equipment.

The whole time the recruits must stay low to the ground, acting as if they were really in a burning building, filled with heavy smoke.

After their first search, the recruits conducted another search, this time of the entire upper floor and with hoods covering their masks and faces so their vision was blacked out.

Although Saturday’s class had a search and rescue focus, there will be more Saturdays where fire recruits learn different skills.

“So far, they’re doing really well,” Parker said. “We’ve got a pretty good group of guys. We may lose a couple because of the time commitment, but generally if you’ve made it this far, they’re pretty self-motivated.”

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