Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Officials feel the heat, donít mind it

by Chris Schultz

September 12, 2013

It was a beautiful, but somewhat steamy 85 degrees on Saturday afternoon.

Perfect weather for wearing 40 pounds of protective clothing, sitting in a metal, smoked-filled box where temperatures can reach in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit and tearing a car apart with heavy tools.

And to cool off, sway in the breeze at 110 feet.

OK, maybe no weather is perfect for that.

In all, the city’s eight council members, the mayor and seven members of the police and fire commission were invited to a special Elected and Appointed Officials Fire Operations class.

Two Lake Geneva aldermen and two members of the city’s police and fire commission showed up to put on fire gear and see what city firefighters do for training.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, aldermen Dennis Lyon and Jeff Wall joined commission President Mark Pienkos and Commissioner Steve Madson at the Lake Geneva Fire Department’s main station, 730 Marshall St., for a briefing, before suiting up and going to the city’s public works yard for more of an outdoor style workout.

Joining them were about 20 other firefighters, firefighter candidates and officers out for an afternoon of training and sweating.

Before leaving the station, the four put on borrowed fire gear so they could experience what it feels like going to a fire.

It took nearly 15 minutes for Lt. Dennis Detkowski and others to help three of the four on with the protective gear, that included heavy boots, waterproof and fire resistant coat, gloves and helmet.

Madson, who recently had shoulder surgery, couldn’t suit up at all.

Later, two of the three would add a 40-pound air tank and face-covering mask. Lyon had to beg off that because of a bad back.

Detkowski said experienced firefighters are expected to get their gear on in a minute, and are also expected to check, test and then shrug on an air tank in just two minutes.

Pienkos, Madson, Lyon and Wall were then driven over to the public works yard in one of the department’s ambulances.

There, the four could experience, or at least observe, what it takes to train in operating fire hoses, riding the department’s 110-foot-tall tower ladder (tall enough to reach the roof of the Geneva Towers condominiums), and actually use an air tank and breathing mask.

Sitting on the site like an abandoned corn roaster was what Fire Chief Brent Connelly called a flashover simulator. The device, basically a two-level sheetmetal trailer, was invented by a fire department in Lake County, Ill.

Flashover is a catastrophic situation in which the air fills with combustible gasses, becomes superheated and ignites everything around it. Firefighters are taught to identify evidence of a pending flashover, and to get out. Even then, they often have only five seconds to drop to the floor and then scuttle to the nearest exit, Connelly said.

When used to simulate flashover, firefighter trainees are in a lower part of the trailer and the flashover flames shoot safely overhead. Still, temperatures inside the trailer reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and trained operators, vents, sprinklers and two hoses ensure that things don’t get out of hand, Connelly said. In this case, however, the trailer was simply filled with smoke. Wall and Pienkos along with a number of other firefighters, went in with breathing apparatus on to learn first hand what it’s like to be a smokey link. Empty water and Gatorade bottles were piling up when Lake Geneva Fire Capt. John Peters brought out extrication tools. Wall and Piekos lined up with other firefighters to handle the devices that slice through automotive steel and plastic to free persons trapped inside a car wreck.

Unlike the earlier Jaws of Life that ripped through car metal and glass, the newer tools are lighter, more versatile and more deliberate, Peters said.

At the end of the training demonstration, the four officials said it was worth the trip.

Pienkos said the day just increased his already considerable respect for the city’s emergency service personnel. Lyon said he thought more city council members should take advantage of the training demonstration to learn what their city firefighters do.