Grissom Firefighters get live fire experience in the Smokehouse

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Harrison Withrow
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

Conventional wisdom says to run out of burning buildings instead of into them, but that’s exactly what Grissom firefighters train to do.

The Grissom Fire Department held a training exercise at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., Sept. 26, 2018, and while the emergency was simulated, the flames were very real.

The training scenario, called a structural exercise, tested the firefighters’ ability to locate and evacuate victims in a low-visibility environment. Additionally, the firefighters started and then put out a live fire inside of the training facility.

“The exercise went really well,” said Lee Tomlinson, Grissom Fire Department assistant chief of operations. “There were a lot of little variables thrown into it such as having three victims, being short on manpower and having a mayday situation, which means evacuating an injured firefighter.

“All of it was handled effectively by our team,” Tomlinson added.

The Grissom Fire Department performs live fire exercises twice a year, and search and rescue exercises between six and eight times a year, he said. It is crucial for firefighters to train in environments similar to what they may experience in the field, and Grissom’s “smokehouse” accomplishes that.

“I was very pleased with what I saw out here today,” said Tomlinson. “Everyone performed well.”

One of the firefighters on the scene was Jay Salmons, Grissom Fire Department captain, whose primary role in the exercise was to cut a hole in the roof of the building, allowing hot gas to escape.

“We hit all of our benchmark goals today, which is great,” said Salmons. “The fire took a lot longer to get started than we would have liked, but our specialty is in putting out the fires, not making them.”

Salmons, who has been a firefighter for over 20 years, said the smokehouse is a great tool but doesn’t perfectly mirror an actual, uncontrolled fire.

“There’s a balance we have to strike between intensity and safety, so we maintain a very controlled environment,” he said. “We want to get our guys familiar with what it’s like going into a live fire, but training safely is our top priority.”

The training that firefighters undergo is constantly evolving and improving, said Salmons.

“We drill constantly, and when we’re planning the training, we’re looking at past failures and even situations where other firefighters have died or been injured, and we train on what to do in those situations or to avoid those situations entirely,” he said. “We’re recreating those scenarios in a controlled environment so that we don’t make those same mistakes.”

Salmons was sweating profusely when he left the smokehouse, which had reached temperatures of over 300 degrees.

“Our face shields actually begin to melt around 300 degrees, so one of our indicators that we need to start wrapping things up is when that face shield starts losing its shape,” he said.

That is just another lesson learned in the safety of a training environment.

Grissom is one of only a handful of accredited fire departments in Indiana. The base operates under a mutual aid agreement that allows base firefighters to respond immediately within a certain radius of the base until local departments can arrive and take over.

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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