Test Fire

Published 8:00 pm Friday, March 23, 2012

Brookhaven firefighters are heading into smoke-filled rooms more often these days.

     There hasn’t been a spike in house fires. Instead, the Brookhaven Fire Department has been giving its new mobile fire trainer a workout.

     The trainer, obtained through a grant, allows the department to simulate a number of scenarios and puts its firefighters through various live fire exercises.

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     And though it may mean they’re in their turnout suits more often, firefighters are glad to have the trainer.

     “Before, all we could do was talk about fighting fires,” said Kelly Porter after a Thursday morning training exercise. “This is 1,000 percent better than what we had, which was nothing.”

     Chief Tony Weeks agrees.

     “The department has never had anything like this,” Weeks said. “It’s something we probably needed for a long time.”

     The trainer makes the Brookhaven Fire Department a standout in the area. It’s the only mobile trainer in the southern region of the state, Weeks said.

     Previous training options included using an abandoned house for live fire exercises, which Weeks described as dangerous.

     “Old houses have a lot of structural issues,” Weeks said. “The mobile trainer is safer.”

     The new unit offers flexibility in training scenarios.

     Of course, through several burners it can simulate fires of differing intensity. The trainer can also be filled with smoke so that firefighters can practice search and rescue, Weeks said.

     There are options to practice wall breaching and forcible entry.

     Brookhaven isn’t keeping the trainer to itself. Volunteer fire departments from surrounding areas have utilized it.

     “It’s to help everybody,” Weeks said.

     Weeks emphasized the importance of preparation for his firefighters.

     “Practice makes perfect,” Weeks said. “I don’t think you can have too much practice.”

     An Assistance to Firefighters Grant offered by FEMA made approximately $343,000 available for the trainer. After project bidding was completed, Weeks said the trainer came out a little cheaper. The department used the remaining grant funds for some equipment upgrades.

     The mobile fire trainer is the latest in a number of upgrades to the department Weeks has seen in his nearly 27 years with the department.

     Grants have previously given the department thermal cameras and new air packs among other upgraded equipment. The department has also seen an expansion in the number of firefighters.

     Next, Weeks would like to upgrade one the department’s fire engines. Of two pumper trucks, one is a 1993 model and has a lot of maintenance needs.

     Weeks wants to keep seeing such improvements under his tenure.

     “You can always improve,” Weeks said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”