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Volunteer firefighters train with burn trailer

By Megan Workman

HARTS, W.Va. -- Brent Ferrell and his teammate dropped to the floor and crawled inside the smoke-filled trailer Saturday with a long hose and one goal on their minds: extinguish the small fire on the other side.

Ferrell was one of about 17 student volunteer firefighters at Harts Volunteer Fire Department who took part in a training course Saturday to become certified volunteer firefighters. The students entered West Virginia University's Mobile Fire Training Unit -- a live-fire training module that can be set on fire repeatedly -- and battled blazes in an effort to earn their uniform.

His first time training in the 53-foot-long trailer, Ferrell, 18, said he successfully put the fire out with the help of his teammate and focus.

"The darkness affected my vision and I couldn't see so I had to keep my hands on the wall to find my way to the fire," Ferrell said. "I want to help out the community. I don't want to be a hero, but I want people to know they can depend on me."

In order for firefighters to become certified, they have to complete numerous courses, including live-fire demonstrations, said Brian Grieco, a WVU Fire Service Extension Rescue adjunct instructor.

The mobile fire-training unit mimics a structural fire a firefighter would encounter inside a home or any building, he said. The nearly one-million-dollar propane-fueled trailer is environmentally friendly and can be set on fire repeatedly without burning unnecessary wood or hay, said Grieco.

"This is the most realistic training I know of," said Dominick Fraley, a WVU Fire Service Extension instructor and engineer with the Huntington Fire Department. "They have live burn buildings but there's a huge EPA compliance and they're a one time use. This is as close as they can get to a live structure fire."

Firefighters-in-training enter the 16 feet high, 8 feet wide trailer in full gear with a hose and one teammate. Completely filled with smoke, the trailer has moveable stainless steel walls and props to give students a different, realistic fire scene every time, Grieco said.

Temperatures can reach up to 1500 degrees in the trailer but at floor level -- where students crawl -- it can get up to 400 degrees, he said.

As students crawled through the smoky trailer in pairs, Grieco, who is also Deputy Chief with the City of Huntington Fire Department, managed the control room. The small cubby inside the mobile fire-training unit has computers that sense how much water is sprayed on the fire to determine when it is "out."

"The computer-operated sensors sense heat and water until [students] put the water in the right place. The fire will flare back up if they don't put it out ... just like in a house, a mattress would continue to catch fire if they don't keep water on it long enough to keep the fire out."

Two instructors stand inside the trailer in case a student needs any help and a red emergency button can turn everything off, Grieco said. Instructors also use radios to communicate in the completely controlled environment, he said.

Students have been training at Harts Volunteer Fire Department since January, Fraley said. Last weekend, students trained in the smoke-filled unit with dummies -- another training technique used to learn how to properly move an individual out of a burning building, Fraley said.

Students also practiced putting out a vehicle fire in a propane-fueled Ford van, one of Kelli Bailey's favorite training courses. The Cabell Midland High School senior said she wants to be a volunteer firefighter so she can help those in her community. Bailey, 18, doused fires in the mobile fire-training unit two years ago but her second time wasn't a waste.

"This time it wasn't as hard. I know what to expect with putting the fire out but there's always something new to learn," Bailey said.

Students will take the written test next weekend to become certified volunteer firefighters.

The Mobile Fire Training Unit debuted in 2007 at a fire school at the Putnam Career and Technical Center in Eleanor. WVU Fire Service Extension's unit is the only fire-training unit in the state. Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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