More than 2,800 local firefighters will receive live fire training at Toronto Fire Services Martin Grove Road training command thanks in large part to a $10,000 donation from Enbridge Pipelines Inc.
The funds, donated through the Enbridge Safe Community Program, are being used to help construct a 900-square foot bungalow training structure at the Etobicoke-based training division – complete with steel roof and two layers of fire-rated drywall.
Within that building, firefighters from across the city will learn first-hand how to safely practise new and innovative firefighting tactics with live fire scenarios.
“The training structure will give firefighters the opportunity to simulate emergency situations and practise new tactics before facing a real fire,” said Enbridge’s senior advisor on community relations, Ken Hall.
The Enbridge Safe Community Program provides financial support to first responders and safety-driven organizations so they can acquire new equipment, obtain professional training or deliver educational programs.
According to Toronto fire Capt. Bill Brown, the new training facility funded by Enbridge will be used primarily to instruct firefighters in the practice of positive pressure tactics – which, in a very simplified way, can be likened to blowing at the candles on a birthday cake, he said.
Except instead of a simple candle, the flames in question are engulfing a building, and instead of your mouth, a very large fan – the same kind used to inflate hot air balloons – is the source of the air used to blow at the flames and combustible gases within.
Brown said that while the practice has been around for about 25 years, there’s been a reluctance to adopt it, because many people view fanning the flames as feeding into the fire and making it worse.
But what it actually does in the case of fighting fires is it pushes all the harmful gases out of the burning building, he explained.
“So from the outside of a burning building, it may look like you’ve made the fire worse, because when all that combustible gas gets outside it lights up and looks like a blow torch coming out, but what it really means is we’re getting at the fire inside much quicker, and we’re getting to the victims inside quicker,” he said. “That’s the whole idea.”
Once at the scene of the fire, firefighters utilizing positive pressure tactics will first work to open up exhaust openings in the blazing building by opening up windows. Then, they’ll place a “very large” positive pressure fan at the front door.
As soon as the fans are going, the firefighters look for a couple of different things: if the smoke is still coming out of the gaps left in the doorway around the fan, they’ll know they need to open up more exhaust windows. But if the smoke is blowing inwards, enough exhaust openings have been made and it’s safe to enter.
“What it does is it (pushes all the smoke and combustible gases out) and gives us much more visibility inside the building sooner so that we can find victims. It allows us to walk in and walk to the fire instead of having to crawl in on hands and knees and search around,” Brown explained.
“The other thing is, our past practice has been to go in to fires and spray water, but if there’s anyone in there when we spray the water, what we’ve done is turn them into a lobster because of the steam created...so this way, it’s more survivability for people inside and there’s less exposure for firefighters to the chemicals through skin absorption.”
For every 18 degree F drop in the temperature of a burning building being fanned through positive pressure tactics, Brown said there’s a 50 per cent reduction in the combustible gases within.
Mandatory positive pressure tactic training will begin at the new Etobicoke training building early next year – and while it’s a method that can’t be used in every instance of fire, Brown said he hopes it’ll go a long way towards protecting his men and women in the field.
“I’m getting tired of our guys going down from cancer. I’ve been around a long time and it’s getting worse,” he said, noting the death of veteran Etobicoke firefighter Randy Burch earlier this month from work-related brain cancer. “That’s another one of the other things with this positive pressure program does – it gives the firefighters less exposure to the chemicals.”