Ladder Operations: Search and Rescue Training
August 11, 2020

West Grove Fire Company is fortunate to have many new members, both regular and junior (under 18) members. Many of these volunteers participated in search and rescue training last Monday evening, where outside temperatures were in the 80's with high humidity. Monday evening’s training was focused on the role of the first-in arriving ladder crew, whose role is laddering the building and primary search as the fire scene unfolds.

The training was conducted in a training simulator located on the grounds of the WGFC station in New London. The Fireblast 451 training simulator provides for very realistic fire simulations, using smoke machines and propane-generated fire. This 53-foot long vehicle was originally purchased by The Southern Chief's Association (made up of the fire companies in southern Chester County) with federal, state and local funding and is based on an 18-wheeler chassis with a cost in excess of $300,000. Features are a changeable interior, realistic but simulated smoke, an environment controlled from a central room with views into the training area, and with basement, living areas, and roof training exercises.

Along with fire suppression, search and rescue are the main activities of a fire department at a fire scene. Primary search is a rapid search for victims, performed when first arriving at a fire when the fire is typically not under control. While TV and movie depictions of fires show interiors where you can see what is happening, in an actual fire, visibility is zero due to smoke and conditions can be very hot. Thus the primary search is performed by firefighters with practiced skills such as staying low and near a wall to maintain orientation, reaching out and sweeping the floor with a tool for extra reach, always being in physical contact with each other, and using the Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) to find victims.

Inside the blacked-out training facility, temperatures were even hotter lending realism as trainees crawled around in heavy turnout gear with air packs on their backs feeling for victims. Excellent training was delivered by 2nd Lieutenant Matt Glass, 2nd Captain Mike Keiser, 2nd Assistant Chief Tony Gialloreto, firefighter Tyler Simpson and others. The West Grove Fire Company is dedicated to continuous learning and training. In 2019, members and staff of the fire company accumulated more than 2,200 hours of training.