What do you do when a suspended ceiling collapses on top of you? How do you escape a building when the primary exit is blocked?

That’s what Red Oak firefighters learned Monday during a very hands-on exercise.

“Today’s training session is basically a firefighter survival class. The training for our purposes today is for a commercial structure. The city owns the property and has given us this building to train in before they tear it down,” engineer Les Thomas said.

“What we are going to do is put these firefighters in different realistic situations where they would have to rescue themselves. We are going to walk through it first, demonstrate and then they are going to be put into the situation,” he said.

Training will be conducted at the former restaurant for the next two weeks. Classroom instruction will take place in the morning at the station followed by hands-on applications in the afternoon. Seven firefighters will go through the course each day. 

One of the first tests set up simulated a blocked exit. Firefighters had to craw through a wood-framed hole that was 14 by 20 inches wearing all of their protective clothing and bunker gear.

“This wall represents a normal residential or commercially studded structure. In this situation you would have to breach through the wall if a collapse caused the primary exit to be cut off,” Thomas said.

“You would have to breach through the walls to get out with the tools that are on a person and go through the hole to exit the building,” he said.

First instructors showed each firefighter how to move and twist safely through the opening without taking off any equipment. Once each person completed the task, he was shown a simpler way. They were informed if they removed the air cylinder off their back and pushed it through the hole it would make it a lot easer.

The next challenge firefighters went through was to find their way out of a darkened building by using the hose line as a guide. Firefighters were blindfolded and led into the building by an instructor, who then walked them around so they would not know their way around, making them rely on their training. Prior to entering the building, firefighters were told to feel for the connecting coupling that would lead them back to the outside.

“You could go around and look at the room and still get turned around in it before finding an exit. People don’t realize that you could get this disoriented even in your own house during a fire,” Lt. Casey Greene said.

“This training is very realistic minus the stress that is involved,” he said. “Add fire and heat to that situation and trying to keep yourself cool and calm can be a real challenge.”

The next phase in the training was with the entanglement box. The long rectangular box was filled with different types of wires and other obstructions that can block the path of a firefighter in a building.

“Look at the suspended ceiling. When a structure like this burns, the cables that support it will fail and will cause the ceiling to crash to the floor along with some of the ductwork,” Thomas said.

“The box simulates when a person is entangled in wire and we show them how to get out of it,” he aid.

As firefighters crawled through the narrow passageway, instructors were showing them a type of swim technique that would allow them to safely pass though without getting hung up. The swim technique looks similar to the breaststroke that is performed in water.

E-mail Andrew at Andrew.branca@wninews.com.