More than 400 firefighters, instructors and vendors representing 80 different fire departments from BC, Alberta and Washington State descended on Oliver this past weekend for training in battling all sorts of scenarios they may find themselves in as volunteer firefighters.
The Spring Training Seminar, which is put on every second year by the Oliver Fire Department, is for volunteer firefighters to experience serious fire scenarios in a controlled manner.
“This gives them what we call inoculation. So once you have experienced it is not quite as frightening as it was beforehand . . . the first time you go in it is kind of scary, the fire will be coming over your head,” Bob Graham, Oliver Fire Department chief, said about the training.
Graham explained that most of the people at the event “have never experienced going into a fire. There are a lot of departments that are just exterior fire fighters. They don't go inside the building to fight a fire, they are just certified to be outside.”
There were 26 stations going on simultaneously, and each person got the chance to attend seven of them. Graham explained that the Oliver Fire Department divides up everyone that registered into groups that went from station to station together.
There were fire departments from all over the province, departments from Tonasket Washington and Banff Alberta that were all split up so the department that registered can have people attend as many events as possible and they can go back to their respective departments and share that knowledge.
One station was the Liquid Fire Station that showcased a body of water where there was jet fuel poured on top and then lit on fire.
“The backdrop is like a building. They are going to put it on the wall first, protecting the building, then put it out completely. What they are using is foam as well as the water. The film on top is eliminating the oxygen from the fuel.” Graham explained, concluding “that's what, 15 seconds, from raging to out.”
About 90 per cent of the people running the stations are members of the Oliver Fire Department. But there were also people from the Justice Institute of British Columbia, the Alert Animal Rescue Team who were running the horse rescue station, the Trans West Okanagan Helicopters running their own helicopter station, and the Vancouver Police Bomb Squad had a station.
Another station run by the Oliver department was the Positive Pressure Ventilation Station.
“We have a fire going inside the building, we are going to coordinate opening this door and opening a window on the far side. Contrary to what you would think we are going to push more air in [using a fan]. We are going to pressurize that building and it is going to push the fire out that window,” Graham explained.
“When they open the door they are going to use the hose in a fan shape out the window.”
Graham reflected on the event, and everyone training and getting these valuable skills: “It makes me very proud of the work our fire department does. The majority of this, all the prep work, is done by members of our department, it is lots of work. We start thinking about it when this finishes.”
With 350 registered firefighters attending for the weekend, Graham explained that they have a protocol for if a fire were to happen in the community.
“We have our trucks set up, ready to go. And we have a designated team of guys that will respond to anything small, if it is anything bigger we will have to shut this down.”
Another event going on next to the arena stood out from the rest because of the roaring noise that could be heard all over the park. This was the liquid natural gas station that was sponsored by FortisBC.
Fortis provided their truck and “liquid natural gas came out of the truck as a liquid, then it turned to a gas form.” There was a giant wall that was simulating the gas meter on the side of the house going up in flames.
Graham explained that “at the transition point [where the liquid reacts and becomes a vapour on fire] you can use a fire extinguisher, dry chemical to put that fire out."
While getting a call for the gas meter on fire does not happen too often, Graham did explain that “last year we had probably half a dozen [cases], where someone hit a gas pipe when they were digging, they had one where a truck backed into a gas meter.” Thus, it is crucial to be trained for this type of event.
Some of the other stations were: Fire fitness tests, how to break into doors, and the Ministry of Environment held a session training people on how not to let chemicals leak into the river.Tanya Kowalenko, public safety manager with FortisBC said “this is a group effort when it comes to Fortis and line hits, or car accidents with a pole, or gas line, we need each other, so we have to support each other.”
Kowalenko continued to explain how important it is that everyone gets access to this kind of training especially in the smaller towns and departments because “we do still see a lot of line strikes in the area which can lead to incidents, so making sure everyone is prepared to handle that. First responders are important across the board, it's such a big deal for us to support it.”
After the training sessions concluded, they were followed by a banquet where there were speeches from various chiefs and sponsors of the event. There was also an award for the firefighting fitness test conducted at one of the stations.
The day ended with Firepalooza, a party that took place at the Oliver Arena, where the Tanner Olsen Band performed many songs and local beer, wine, liquor and food from Bo Betty's food truck was served.