By Scott Prater
Schriever Fire Department firefighter Kohl Riddell calmly walked up to the door, readied his axe and swung mightily. In one fell swoop, he succeeded in busting the handle, the lock and much of the door. Later, senior firefighter Scott Bartlett used a K-12 saw to cut through a floor board. Meanwhile, their fellow firefighters smashed through walls, ceilings, windows and roofs — all to the approval of their supervisors, who stood by evaluating.
The action took place inside Schriever Building T-609 Sept. 20, one of four days the fire department had to conduct training inside the soon-to-be demolished building.
“We have a forcible-entry training building, but it’s not the same,” Riddell said. “You can’t always be realistic with it. Real buildings, windows, roofs and walls break and resist quite a bit differently.”
Deputy fire chief Mark Captain first learned of T-609’s imminent demise while attending a meeting last month. Once a demolition contractor was chosen, he asked if the fire department could conduct some training prior to the actual event.
“We recognized an opportunity,” Captain said. “I remembered that when the base leaders had Building T-608 demolished a few years ago that the contractor took pieces away in dumpsters. If they were going to do the same thing with T-609 then there would be no harm in us conducting some training inside.”
Assistant chief Robert Finley, head of training, explained that thanks to its flat roof, dropped ceilings and raised floors, Building T-609 was ideal for firefighter training.
“It gave us both a realistic and controlled environment where we were able to use our K-12 saw, our chainsaws and other tools,” he said. “Very rarely do we get to cut through a roof or breach a wall; it’s invaluable training.”
The controlled environment also allowed training supervisors to create scenarios, assign tasks and evaluate crew performance.
“We were able to use this as teaching time,” Finley said. “If we needed to halt a scenario, especially if a safety issue arose, we stopped and talked about it. Afterwards we debriefed each crew on their tasks and addressed areas that needed improvement.”
Trainers broke teams down into companies or engine crews and worked through scenarios with each during the four-day exercise and 29 of the department’s 30 firefighters participated in the training in full gear.
“One thing that’s great about this job is that you never stop learning,” Riddell said. “There’s always another way to do something and it’s always beneficial to get feedback or ideas on what might work better.”
Building T-609, which served for a time as an administrative building for the 310th Space Wing, is slated to be demolished later this year.