BRISTOL – With plenty of smoke and water to spare, Bristol firefighters led city officials through a series of controlled fire operations Saturday to demonstrate the realities of fighting fires.
At the Bristol Fire Department Live Burn Facility near engine company four’s station on Vincent P. Kelly Road, officials were led through fire control, breaching and rescue exercises by being shown how to locate bodies in a building, navigate disorienting smoke and more. Later, officials helped firefighters in a vehicle extrication exercise.
“It’s to give politicians and legislators a firsthand view to what our job is and what it entails,” said Bristol Fire Chief Richard Hart. “They get to feel what it’s like to drag hose into the building, to actually feel the heat, see the fire and put the fire out. This is a very controlled environment. It’s not as hot as a structure fire that we routinely go to. It’s really an educational program.”
Mayor Jeff Caggiano, City Councilman Sebastian Panioto, City Councilwoman Jaqueline Olsen, Bristol Board of Finance member Mark Whitford and Bristol Police Chief Brian Gould took part in the operations. All were outfitted in complete fire safety gear and led through the operations by a team of firefighters.
“It’s one of the most disorienting events I’ve been through,” said the mayor. “They tell you what you’re going to see, feel and hear, but until you experience it, I don’t think you can grasp it. I just went back in and we were in simulated smoke, which they said is a lot easier to see through. When they burn the live burn, we were just watching the rest of that smoke come down and you can see the layers of difference.”
Caggiano said that’s why it’s important to be well trained to fight fires and it was fortunate Bristol had such a facility to help not only its firefighters but also surrounding towns who may want to get involved in utilizing the structure.
Measuring around 2000 square feet, said the fire chief, the burn facility is two stories with a house roof in a corner. The building is made of concrete and metal. Hart estimated it would reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit during the exercise. He said an uncontrolled structure fire could reach between 1,200 to 1,500 degrees. Firefighters responding to such fires could carry anywhere from 70 to 80 pounds in routine gear, not noting their tools, said the chief.
Before becoming Bristol’s fire chief, Hart ran fire operations for state legislators in Hartford while working with the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut. The chief said it was important to have such demonstrations so that government officials understood why fire departments ask for money to finance the equipment, manpower and training needed to fight fires appropriately and safely.
Theatrical smoke was utilized on the first floor of the structure and live burns on the second floor, fueled by wood pallets and hay. Located throughout the structure, firefighters placed furniture to simulate a house environment. Burning was strictly limited to the pallet and hay structures. Dummies were also placed in the building to allow for a human body retrieval simulation.
“It’s an experience but it just shows the kind of endurance, strength and courage that it takes to do this job,” said Panioto. “I give these guys a lot of credit. We thank them that they’re at the ready to help the residents of Bristol every day.”