By Coun. Alex Reed
Town councillors Alex Reed and Patrick Wilson participated in “Feel the Heat – Fire Ops 101” where they were feeling some heat, but it wasn’t political. It was the temperature inside their firefighting gear that had them sweating.
The Cochrane Fire Department, along with their Calgary colleagues and the International Firefighters Association, put Reed and Wilson through firefighting training 101.
Reed and Wilson found themselves in a hot spot and it wasn’t facing irate Cochrane taxpayers, but a burning building.
Reed said, “Black smoke was billowing from the doorway that gave way to orange inferno and blasting heat. I was wide-eyed behind my oxygen mask, facing the dense smoke and flames that bloomed above me while I wrestled to keep control of the charged hose in my arms”.
He was carrying a fire hose into a building filled with simulated smoke, wearing breathing apparatus, and following a lead firefighter into the blankness.
Everything was going fine until he lost his flashlight and had to drop to his knees to feel his way around the smoke-filled room to search for a fire victim.
The burning building was just one of four emergency simulations Wilson and Reed completed as part of Fire Ops 101 in order to get a feel for the demanding, dangerous, and dedicated life of a firefighter. The operation is designed to give decision-makers a glimpse into the needs of municipal fire departments.
Wilson said, “the day exposed us to smoke, the adrenaline rush, and the physical stress and strain our firefighters face protecting our community."
The day included actually suiting up in firefighter protective clothing, donning self-contained breathing apparatus and going inside a real fire (twice) to experience firsthand the environment in which firefighters work.
“On our day as ﬁreﬁghters we got to ride the ﬁre engine with lights and sirens, conduct a victim search in a smoke-ﬁlled building and feel the heat of live ﬁre, we performed deﬁbrillation on a victim of a drug overdose, and we cut victims out of actual cars using our extrication tools and much more. Sounds exhaustive...it was,” says Reed. Wilson added, “Each adrenalin-ﬁlled moment gave us a small taste of ﬁreﬁghting.”
Reed and Wilson appeared to enjoy the auto extrication exercises, smashing the glass and using hydraulic tools to bend car doors, and cutting through a car’s frame.
Reed said, “I have a much better appreciation of just how much personnel is required to safely and properly conduct this hard, diverse and complicated work.”
Cochrane firefighter Chris Chyka said the day was designed to educate and inform.
“I wanted councillors to understand what a firefighter goes through,” Chyka said. “They did fabulous – they got nice and sweaty, asked a lot of questions, and I hope learned a lot.”
Wilson said, “Thankfully, no victims were relying directly on our abilities, but we were certainly relying on the professional firefighters at Fire Ops; our lives depended on them, should things take a turn for the worst.”
Reed added, “The gravity of that realization set in as my shadow, a Calgary firefighter, pulled me safely into a corner of the blazing room as we worked to extinguish the flames. The fire spread in the path of least resistance to the roof and tried to get behind us as I sprayed the flames from my position. I recognized I was directly in that path of potential danger.”
“As we crawled through a blacked-out, smokey search and rescue maze in full bunker gear with air packs on our backs, I began to feel disoriented. Staring into the unforgiving darkness while trying to trace the wall and keep track of your surroundings feels suffocating at points. Luckily, I had one of the professional firefighters at my heels offering encouragement to press on through the door and around corners until we were met once again with daylight at the maze exit,” said Reed.
Wilson, “Everything we did at Fire Ops was a matter of time, but also a matter of teamwork. Transporting a mannequin patient onto a backboard after rescuing it from a head-on crash required careful all-hands-on-deck coordination.”
Reed, “That night, I attempted to sleep after what would’ve been a mere eight-hour shift compared to a standard 24-hour shift. In the silence, my ears were ringing with the incessant and unfamiliar sounds of the day. The beeps of a self-controlled breathing apparatus (SCBA), an automatic feature that alerts a lack of movement by an individual wearing the air pack. The jarring shatter of glass and the searing slice of metal as we ripped doors off of a vehicle to extricate trapped victims. The gasps of breath amplified through my face mask as I climbed stairs to the fire. But the sound that stood out the most? The endless stream of thank you’s and words of appreciation spoken by each firefighter I encountered. These first responders, who put their lives on the line to save ours, expressed such gratitude to each attendee for taking the time to participate in Fire Ops 101. Firefighters execute these varied tasks daily with even more physically and psychologically strenuous factors. I found out that to be a firefighter is much more than fighting fires.”
Thermal imaging cameras, fully staffing departments, protective turnout gear, even upgraded fire engines do cost thousands of taxpayer dollars. Our Cochrane fire department has moral support and community admiration, they also need our monetary support.