Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shadowing CERTs: Class 7: Fire Suppression

[This week, on Shadowing CERTs: On their seventh and final week of training, the students of Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Classes 85 and 86 get some hands-on training with fire extinguishers, and face one last drill before their final graduation exercise on November 15. Are they up to the challenge?]

It's Monday night, and the air in Burn Building A at the Fire and Rescue Academy is still warm and sooty from a firefighter training exercise earlier that day.

Burned pallets from an earlier exercise in Burn Building A. All photos: Joe Loong

It's fitting, since this week, the students of Fairfax County CERT Classes 85 and 86 are about to get some hands-on training in fire suppression.

But first, they have a classroom lecture about fire chemistry, fire safety, and the role of CERTs in putting out small fires (fires smaller than a person and which can be put out in under five seconds). CERTs don't run into burning buildings; when they see a fire, they determine if they can safely attempt to put it out with a fire extinguisher, and if they can't, they get out.

CERT Gary Nisker holds the fire extinguisher while instructor Mike Forgy demonstrates the workings of a two-person fire suppression team.

CERTs on fire suppression teams work in teams of two, where the person using the fire extinguisher has only one job (the easy one): Use the extinguisher to put out the fire. The other team member must keep one hand on their partner, while checking for hazards and watching out for the safety of the team.

A CERT fire suppression team from Class 85 uses a water fire extinguisher on a fire pan.

After the lecture, each CERT student gets a chance to perform both fire suppression team roles, facing off against a propane-fueled fire pan controlled by instructor Brian Talbot. When handling the extinguisher, they use the P.A.S.S. technique (Pull pin and test, Aim, Squeeze the handle, Sweep at the base of the fire), then serve as the person in the back, making sure that the team stays safe and never turns its back on the fire.

You can see the CERTs in action in the following videos -- Class 85:

And Class 86:

(You can find more photos from the CERTs' fire suppression training at the Fairfax County CERT Facebook Page: CERT Class 85, 10/27/14 and CERT Class 86, 10/29/14, where you will also see the CERTs handling a real fire hose under the guidance of a Fairfax County firefighter.)

CERTs handle a fire hose under the guidance of instructor Paul Bertovich.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Immediately after the fire suppression training, the CERTs are sent into their last drill before the November 15 final graduation exercise. Once again, they must take all of the knowledge and skills they've learned over the previous seven weeks and put it together as they respond to the scenario, a simulated hurricane-struck building.

CERTs check in with Command and Accountability.

The CERTs must set up a command post and establish Command, Accountability, Logistics, Medical, and Rescue functions. Then, they have to send teams to size up the situation and determine whether the scene is safe to begin rescue operations. (For the Monday CERTs, certain areas of the burn building are deemed off-limits, due to the recent burn activity.)

CERT rescue teams encounter a rescue dummy.

The CERT rescuers then must methodically search the structure, and rapidly assess and treat the simulated victims they encounter. Their goal is to spend no more than 30 seconds on each victim, treating only the "three killers": airway obstructions, major bleeding, and shock, then tagging the victim according to the proper triage category (Red, Yellow, Green, or Black.)

CERT rescuers assess and treat a gingerbread in the burn building.

After the initial search, CERTs must then transport the survivors to Medical and provide care until first responders arrive.

CERT rescuers maneuver a plywood "gingerbread" victim down the stairs.

Throughout the drill, the CERTs must use every skill they've learned, from giving complete orders and maintaining accountability, to marking buildings and applying pressure dressings, while above all, remembering to keep themselves safe while doing the greatest good for the greatest number.

It's a lot to remember.

At the end of the exercise, the CERTs meet to debrief. It's their last chance to ask questions. With no classes to make up, they have two weeks to organize and prepare for their graduation full-scale exercise: a simulated mass casualty incident, featuring live human victim actors covered in wound makeup, at the realistically damaged training facility in Lorton.

Be a Victim!

On November 15, you can be part of the action: If you're a previously trained CERT, you can participate as a player. Otherwise, all persons 15 years and up are eligible to be victim actors for the exercise. If you've been following their progress, it's your chance to see up close how the CERTs perform.

How will they do? We'll see on November 15!

Joe Loong, volunteer Social Media Specialist for Fairfax County CERT, is an editorial content and community engagement consultant. You can email him at blog@fairfaxcountycert.org

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