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DeKalb firefighters practice rescue methods

Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, June 20, 2013 6:11 a.m. CDT
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(Rob Winner –
Firefighters Steve Cruz (left) and Joe Wempe (right) pull a dummy up from the basement to the first floor during a training exercise Wednesday at an empty house on Hollister Avenue in DeKalb. "This is brute strength. This is busting your butt and getting him out." said DeKalb Assistant Chief Jeff McMaster (center).

DeKALB – There’s a degree of brutality in some of the techniques firefighters use to save each other.

In a house slated for demolition just off of Sycamore Road, DeKalb firefighters worked on rescue drills and exercises that they will use if one of them has become injured or incapacitated in a burning house.

“None of it is user-friendly,” battalion Chief Jim Zarek said. “But if we’re doing this, bad things have already happened. It’s time to get it done.”

At the abandoned house, firefighters punched holes in the wall around the chimney on the second floor. The chimney acted as an anchor for the firefighters as they rappelled out of the second-story window.

“If we’re on the second story or the third story and the fire cut off our way getting out, all of us carry rope bags on us to basically hook inside, and basically jump out the window in a controlled fall,” Zarek said.

Both Zarek and Fire Chief Eric Hicks noted the safety precautions they were taking during the drills, including an extra rope to help the firefighters drop out of the window. Zarek said they have not used any of these techniques in a real situation yet.

Near the kitchen, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff McMasters was overseeing an exercise in which a firefighter had fallen through the floor. One firefighter would descend into the hole and tie-up a 125-pound dummy, who represents a fallen comrade. Two other firefighters would use the rope to pull the dummy out.

“It’s brute strength,” McMasters said. “When somebody is down, you get them out quick.”

Another drill involved two firefighters carrying a third up a flight of stairs. Zarek said this is to represent a firefighter who collapsed in a basement.

Zarek said the drills account for most of the things these firefighters would face in a house fire. If it was the real thing, the firefighters would also have to contend with the heat and smoke, as well as any falling debris. But there’s an emotional impact to seeing one of your fellow firefighters hurt, he said.

“They’re going to be a little more amped up than they are now,” Zarek said.

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