Friday, December 02, 2005

Self Control.

I do have a fair amount of self control, not so much as not giving into desires, but using my mind to over ride what my instincts tell me I should do.

What sparked this train of thought, in the background I have the bonus disk of Star Wars Episode III running for white noise and on the particular menu screen is Darth Vader breathing through his mask.

I'm sure all students who go through some sort of fire fighting training eventually do the Vader imitation when they put on the face mask/oxygen system. For me it was going through maritime Basic/Advanced Firefighting Training (BAFT). Ordinarily this class isn't required for the level of license I have, but the next level I'm working towards it is required.

BAFT is a five day course, and probably one of the most physically demanding courses I've been through in regards to my maritime training. First two days are the Basic part of fire fighting, and hands on work the first day is first responder or how to fight a fire in nothing but the street clothes we'd be in on a ship. I had to be paired up with a guy who just wouldn't listen, if we were still in the army he'd have gotten a blanket party long before the week was out.

So there we were, going through a realistic ship mock up, heavy smoke down to within feet of the floor and hot from the fires that were already burning. We had on only what we came to class with, this was a part of the first responder training that if we respond fast enough we can douse a decent size fire with only a CO2 extinguisher and later on in the afternoon a 2" hose.

My partner refused to listen to the instructors and chased a flame up a bulk head, creating a thermal inversion, all the heated air that was up high was exchanged spots with the cooler air that was down low. If it had been a real fire, we were in danger of cooking ourselves, with a heavy fogging spray going every where we were soaked to the bone, which would have turned to steam with this inversion, literally cooking us within our own clothes. I realized later on waiting for my ride back to the hotel after the first day, all the hair in my nose had been singed, no wonder I was constantly smelling burnt hair.

Next day was similar work, except this time we were in "bunker gear", the heavy flame retardant stuff you see a typical fire fighter in. As part of this gear was a SCBA, self contained breather apparatus, similar to SCUBA gear divers wear. So putting the face mask on and connecting to the respirator, soon we had a dozen students doing the "Darth Vader" breathing.

After the second day we went from a class of 20 to a class of 5, the only ones signed on to go on to the advanced portion of the training. Wednesday was all classroom work, fire theory/chemical anatomy of a fire, HAZMAT response and how to train others.

Thursday morning as we were told first thing, the training wheels are now off, unlike the first two days where the fires were propane which got hot enough for realism, they were rather contained to what areas of the ship had the gas piped into it. For the remaining two days, we were being switched to a true "Bravo" fire, white gas.

We're broken down into two squads, a 3 man and a 2 man, thank goodness the SOB wasn't in my squad. Being the 3 man we were chosen to go first through the first scenario. Ship is already at general quarters, we'd dressed down in the bunker gear, a first responder has detected smoke in the engine room but no fire, we're sent in to investigate further since the smoke is getting heavier by the moment.

We go through procedures on opening a scuttle and covering each man with a hose as he descends down a ladder to the engine room level. Once all three of us are down, I'm last man this time around, we proceed forward into the engine as fast as you can with a duck walk in that restrictive gear.

The whole time we were preparing the gear and getting down to the level, the instructors had already put the white gas into the compartment and it was quickly filling up with fumes. Once they touched it off, that was probably the most scared I've ever been in my life.

All instincts said to turn around and run! We had flame roll over on the ceiling, a wall of flame burning through the fumes rushing at us through mid air and on the deck a puddle of flaming liquid snaking it's way towards our boots.

The tank on the SCBA is rated at 30 minutes of air, but that's misleading, that 30 minutes is timed for a person sitting down breathing normally and not under going any physical exertion. A well conditioned fire fighter can get about 20 minutes out of a tank, I believe we were averaging 15 minutes per tank in training. This particular scenario, our squad was lucky to get 10 minutes of air, it took all three of a bit of time to get our breathing back under control, even though our training kicked in in moments and we were fighting the fires.

All three of us rotated through as nozzleman, training how to relieve and be relieved out there in front, since that person bears the brunt of the heat. We exited the same scuttle we entered and about the time the last of our squad exited the hatch, we all ran out of air.

The SCBA's work on an overpressure system, the air in our masks is at a higher pressure then the air outside of it, so air can leak out but nothing can came in, similar to how the M1 Abrams Tank NBC system works. Once the air runs out in the tank, essentially you have a vacuum in the face mask, you can breath out but you aren't getting anything back in.

The instructor got a bit of a chuckle as he watch all three of us scramble to disconnect the regulator off the mask so that we could breath. One guy got it off no problem, myself and the other guy couldn't and had to rip the mask off, lungs beginning to burn waiting for the next breath that I didn't know when I could take. Found out later on that my regular actually jammed and it took a bit of wiggling and swearing to finally get it off.

While we caught our breath, the second squad prepared to go back down there as our relief to make sure the fire didn't reflash and continue to burn. Same thing, they let the compartment fill with fumes before re-lighting it. The SOB who wouldn't listen nearly got himself hurt, you don't put your face over an open hatchway, and this rocket scientist was doing just that staring down into the hatch trying to see through the smoke.

We reminded him not to stick his head over the hatch, he turned away to make a smart assed comment about us telling him what to do just in time as the instructors touched off the gas. Just like what happened to us, happened again, a geyser of flame come shooting up through that hatch a good six or seven feet in height. If he hadn't turned away he'd have taken it full in the face and even in full gear I'm sure he would have been injured.

He didn't learn his lesson and on the last day he kept antagonizing the instructors so much, they were ready to send us through an extremely difficult scenario using a 3" line instead of the 2" lines we'd been using all week. A 2" line a single guy can almost control it on his own, a 3" takes a minimum of three guys.

He cut our squad some slack, but ran the other squad ragged, I know that guy's new partner was extremely pissed with him at the end, no to mention exhausted.

Passed all my written and hands on demonstration tests, completed that week with a certificate that's good for another 5 years and a new and healthy respect for the fire fighters who do similar work day in and day out.

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