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City leaders gear up to experience firefighting

Fire Ops 101 participants watch as a fire grows in the live burn scenario. (Photo by Chad Rindal)

Duluthian Liz Olson of TakeAction Minnesota has always wanted to dress up in firefighter gear.

"I think that's every kid's grownup dream, to put on firefighter gear and put out a fire," Olson said.

Olson's childhood dream was realized April 30 as she and 25 other community leaders participated in Fire Ops 101. Duluth Firefighters IAFF Local 101, in conjunction with the Duluth Fire Department and Lake Superior College (LSC), conducted a half-day firefighter orientation for community and business leaders, elected public officials and representatives of the media.

"You're here today to gain a little education on what we do, some perspective and clarity. There are a lot of misconceptions that we hope to clear up,"said Local 101 president Pete Johnson.

Members of the public suited up in protective clothing at the LSC Emergency Response Training Center in Gary-New Duluth. The program allowed participants to experience simulated emergencies. Scenarios included auto extraction, ladders, search and rescue and pre-hospital emergency medicine.

Olson's favorite part of the day was the live burn scenario where she donned a self-contained breathing apparatus to experience a real fire.

"You could really see the difference response time makes. Fire moves so quickly in seconds," Olson said. "I really appreciate our firefighters."

Diana Lawrey, a Duluth schools Ojibwe teacher, was also impressed by the live burn.

"It was amazing to see how quickly the room was overtaken by smoke and how you could not see even a few feet in front of you. The pitch blackness of it surprised me. What you see on TV is nothing like real life," Lawrey said.

Lawrey found the search and rescue scenario to be the most difficult. She couldn't see anything and only had one other person to work with to drag a 50-pound body out of the mock apartment.

"I was just crawling around and feeling for things. It was physically hard, but at least I knew the smoke in there was fake," Lawrey said. (The smoke in the search and rescue exercise was generated by a machine.) "When they do it, it's real."

City Councillor Noah Hobbes also had a hard time with the search and rescue portion.

"It's easy for me to think, 'Oh, I can crawl through my house without being able to see because I know it.' But these guys aren't going to their house, they're going into strangers' houses every single time and that makes if very challenging," Hobbes said.

Hobbes said he enjoyed the auto extraction because he got to "just destroy a car." Participants learned about the various tools and methods firefighters use to safely remove people from car crashes.

This is the seventh Fire Ops orientation program the department has held. The event takes place every two years.

Community Action Duluth staff member Sarah Priest watches as firefighter Dan Smith instructs the group how to use a self-contained breathing apparatus mask. (Photo by Eric Roadfeldt)

Firefighter Frank Heller operates the ladder on 1 Tower to take Fire Ops 101 participants up in the bucket. (Photo by Eric Roadfeldt)

Duluth Firefighters IAFF Local 101 president Pete Johnson helps Liz Olson with her self-contained breathing apparatus air pack after the live burn scenario. (Photo by Eric Roadfeldt)

Duluth Budgeteer's Teri Cadeau swings a sledgehammer as City of Duluth Human Resources Coordinator Theresa Severance holds a crowbar during the auto extraction unit. (Photo by Eric Roadfeldt)

Firefighter Matt Swanson clears smoke from the live burn trailer. (Photo by Eric Roadfeldt)

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176