City’s firefighters devote hours to training
Six Tonganoxie area men donned firefighting gear last Thursday morning and rushed, two at a time, into a burning trailer.
After a few minutes, a duo would emerge, to be replaced by the next two men, and then the next two men.
The exercise, behind the Tonganoxie City Fire Department station, repeated itself for an hour. It was all part of training for the city's volunteer fire department.
Recently, firefighters purchased the storage trailer for $2,300. They poured a concrete pad for the trailer and built interior walls, bringing the total investment to about $3,000.
"That is firefighters' money," said James Paine, the only firefighter on city payroll. "The city paid nothing for that. It's out of the firefighters' money."
It's been worth it, the firefighters say.
"This is a big help, having this down here," said Emmett Wetta, a city council member who has been a volunteer firefighter for about six years. "Usually, you have to wait on KU to bring a burn trailer to you. This is the third time we've used this already in two weeks."
The University of Kansas charges $45 for each firefighter to train in the college's trailer.
When the department used the trailer in February, it cost more than $800, so Paine is convinced the firefighters' investment was a good one.
"Once we build our money back up again, firefighters are talking about buying a second trailer next year," he said.
On Thursday, Paine talked strategy with the other firefighters before they began training.
"Keep in mind your wooden wall," said Paine, who is deputy chief. "If you get into trouble or freak out, head out that door."
Then the work began.
Firefighters piled up straw and wood in the west end of the trailer, doused the tinder with kerosene and torched it. After allowing enough time for the fire to build in strength, two firefighters pulled hose into the burning structure. Paine estimated the temperature at the top of the trailer, where flames were dancing across the ceiling, at 1,200 to 1,500 degrees.
As they emerged from the trailer, firefighters appreciated the dousing of water they received.
In addition to Paine and Wetta, these Tonganoxie city firefighters participated in Thursday's training: Pat Albert, Mike Perryman and Bill Freeman. Kyle Hurla, who is a five-year volunteer with Stranger Township Fire Department, also took part.
The training trailer, which remains locked when not in use, is a true benefit to the department, Paine said.
"It teaches the new firefighters how a fire behaves, what to look for in case of a flashover, when the flames are rolling across the ceiling," he said.
When flashover occurs, it is possible an entire room can burst into flames.
"We show them what to look for to prevent a flashover, how to control a fire," Paine said. "This gives them experience in a good smoky atmosphere with the heat so when we do have a fire they won't panic, and they'll know what to look for."
The new trailer will help firefighters fulfill their 30-hour training requirement each year. A total of 20 of those hours have to be with the Tonganoxie department, while the other 10 can be away from the department.
"That number is going to start going up each year," Paine said. "Ideally, a full-time firefighter should have 240 hours a year."
In addition to learning more about how fire works, training helps the 17 active volunteer firefighters get to know one another important in life-threatening situations.
"There are some guys who don't like to be hot, they don't like to be in the smoke," Paine said. "They prefer to do other things. It's good to know who can do what. It takes all kinds to make a fire department work. It takes the guy who will go get the water, the guy who will go inside and the guy who will go get equipment off the truck."