Charging blindly into a burning, smoke-filled building to rescue people is one of the most daunting challenges a firefighter might face.
"You never want to be in that situation, but you have to be ready for it," said Grandview Heights Fire Marshal and Capt. Martin Hafey.
Grandview firefighters participated in search-and-rescue training sessions Feb. 5, 6 and 10 in the former Deyo-Davis Funeral Home, 1578 W. First Ave.
"We don't often get an opportunity to conduct training in an acquired building," Hafey said, referring to a structure that's set for demolition. "You can do rescue training in the fire station, but that's a building that you're familiar with. You can get a better training experience conducting an exercise in an unfamiliar building."
The former funeral home and the adjacent McGovern building will be torn down later this year to make way for a new retail and residential development.
Grandview firefighters participate in some sort of training each month, Hafey said.
"It may be watching a training video, reading a report or going through an exercise," he said, "but the most valuable is when we can conduct a training session out in the field in a real building."
The search-and-rescue training at the funeral home involved a situation in which firefighters had to locate and rescue victims trapped in a burning building.
"Since the funeral home is so close to schools and businesses, we didn't set a fire," Hafey said. "We used theatrical-type smoke from a machine to fill the building with smoke and blackened all the windows. Just like in a real fire with a building full of smoke, the firefighters couldn't see 5 inches in front of them."
Grandview's 18 firefighters are divided into three crews. Each crew is on duty for a full 24-hour shift at the fire station and then has two days off.
Crew members went through the training session during their regular shifts and remained available for real service calls at any time during the training, Hafey said.
"We had five scenarios that each crew went through," he said. "Two of them involved using our ropes and searching a large building or office space in teams. On the upper floors, we had three scenarios that simulated a small apartment or bedroom rescue."
Firefighters use the ropes to help make sure they can find their way out of a large building or room during a fire-rescue operation, Hafey said.
As part of the exercise, mannequins were placed in the building and covered with heated blankets to simulate the body heat emitted by humans, Hafey said.
"Our firefighters were practicing using our thermal-imaging cameras, which see through the smoke and fire, to determine the origin of the fire and to see the heat signature of a victim," he said. "They help make fire search-and-rescue work more efficient and safe for the firefighter. It helps the firefighter know whether an object on the ground is a person or a piece of furniture."
The firefighters weren't formally evaluated in the training sessions, Hafey said.
"What we do after each session is sit down with each crew and talk about what they went through and how they think they did," he said. "We'll ask them four or five questions to reflect on -- things like what went well or didn't go so good, what they think they could have done differently, what areas they think they might need to work on.
"We try to make the training as close to real life as possible," Hafey said.
Fire medic Michael Hurd said the search-and-rescue training provided a realistic way to put the techniques firefighters learn to the test.
"It's a chance to practice using your muscle memory," he said.
"You know what you're supposed to do -- now here's a chance to put that knowledge into action.
"The big value of these exercises is that we're going through an actual building. It's hands-on training," Hurd said. "A training scenario can never match the real thing, but it's always a good refresher."
The training was scheduled to continue Feb. 11-13, with firefighters practicing using fire hoses indoors in the McGovern building, Hafey said.
"We'll have different scenarios set up to test how to get the hose down, how much pressure you need, how much of the hose you need to use to fight a fire in various settings, like a stairwell or down a long hallway," he said Feb. 8.