Asst. Chief Roger Stewart of Oak Bay Fire Department crawls out of a box of entangled wires that he navigated blindfolded with full gear and air tank. The simulated set up creates a ‘mayday’ scenario where the firefighter is blindfolded and in distress. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Asst. Chief Roger Stewart of Oak Bay Fire Department crawls out of a box of entangled wires that he navigated blindfolded with full gear and air tank. The simulated set up creates a ‘mayday’ scenario where the firefighter is blindfolded and in distress. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Oak Bay firefighters endure intense ground survival training

Props for the exercise based on fatality scenarios

It’s an intense week for the Oak Bay firefighters as they run a training session that features several scenarios based on firefighter fatalities.

To truly prepare for the worst, they do it blindfolded.

An entire bay at Oak Bay Fire Hall was darkened and filled with props while the firefighters, one at a time, had to find his way out. The props, and the trailer, are from the International Association of Firefighters Ground Survival Training program. The trailer travels B.C., stopping at different fire departments.

READ MORE: Firefighters from around B.C. hit Saanich for fire ground survival training

“The main props are based on firefighter fatalities,” said Oak Bay firefighter Riley Ireland, who completed the training on Friday. “This gives you training in a situation of high stress.”

The situation starts with the firefighter calling mayday into the radio. They then follow the hose to the exit. The trick is the hose is wound through the various obstacles. Some are easier, a mattress, or a piece of wood.

One prop is a steel wall with a 16-inch gap between wall studs that firefighters have to pull themselves through, replicating their own escape if they had to punch out a section of drywall. Another prop is the wire tunnel. Television cables, phone cables and other cords are a major threat for firefighters crawling through smoky, dark conditions and have proved fatal.

“It’s invaluable experience,” said Asst. Chief Roger Stewart, who did the training Friday, the first in his 23-year career. “Your brain doesn’t operate like you think it will. It goes to the lowest common denominator in these high-stress situations.”

Firefighters are prepared with presentations of simulated mayday incidents before being sent in. The trick with the wires is to lie on your back and put the hose over top. Wire cutters are also recommended.

To crawl through a wall, firefighters pull off their air tank and, while still breathing through it, place it in between their legs and crawl backwards through the wall.

“That lowest denominator has to be our training. That’s the only thing we can rely upon in these stressful situations. You have to breathe calmly. That’s why we can make it out of there with air in our bottles.”

reporter@oakbaynews.com