Trial by fire

Saanich Fire holds exercises in abandoned building

Saanich firefighter Phil Reaume

Saanich firefighter Phil Reaume

Firefighter Chris McKay stood peering through the artificial smoke on Friday morning, patiently waiting on the stoop of the now abandoned house at 3315 Glasgow St.

Minutes later fellow Saanich firefighter Phil Reaume emerged from the front door with a life-sized hose dummy, which he’d recovered following an extensive search.

And just minutes after that, the exercise ended abruptly as four of the eight firemen jumped on their engine to respond to a real call from dispatch.

“That happens too,” smiled Kraig Devlin.

The Saanich Fire captain oversees staff training and organized a lot of the exercises on the 3300 block of Glasgow last week.

“We’re blessed this week to have four houses cleared for demolition. They’ve all had their asbestos removed, there’s no nails or holes in the floor, and we check them for safety before hand,” he said, as the siren wailed form the departing engine.

All four houses are being cleared for the coming Sophia Residences development across from Rutledge Park.

Clearing the house for safety is important, Devlin said.

“It’s the same special-effects smoke used in movies, it doesn’t climb like real smoke, it creates a fog. But it works. The guys can’t see their hand in front of their face in there, one guy smashed the front window [from inside].”

On Friday officers acted through a life-saving scenario using a crew half the size of what would respond to the call for a single-family structure fire.

The hose dummies are hidden. One firefighter seeks life (dummy) while the other attempts to locate the ‘seat’ of the fire and control it.

All four battalions rotated through the houses, using each house for different exercises, including cutting and demolition.

“It’s highly beneficial to get this experience for the firefighters but also for the officers who may be new to incident command. We’re very thankful that we’ve never heard a complaint from neighbours.”

Saanich Fire use abandoned houses for real-life exercises about three times a year.