Bloomfield firefighters build skills and confidence

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BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield firefighters trained in five fundamental procedures last week at an onsite facility located at Firehouse No. 3 on East Passaic Street under the guidance of outside instructors and the watchful eye of Bloomfield Deputy Chief Robert Barra. The five procedures practiced were: masked confidence course, forcible entry, ladder placement, roof ventilation and hoseline stretch.
“Circumstances dictate the procedure,” Barra said. “I’ve heard that for over 20 years.”

Located in a blue cargo container is the masked confidence course, which simulates a darkened passageway in a badly damaged building. It requires a firefighter to crawl, sometimes on hands and knees and sometimes sideways, at least 60 feet over a surface that turns 180 degrees from entry to exit, with the flooring dramatically changing numerous times along the way. Built by a Bloomfield firefighter, the floors are pitched, split down the middle or missing altogether with only joists to crawl over. Barra said the course is meant to put a firefighter into difficult situations in order to build confidence and skill sets, and learn how to maintain composure under stress.

At the end of the course, the firefighter must stick his gloved hands through two circular portals cut through a barrier and tie a figure eight knot or square knot — blind.

“This is meant to improve dexterity with gloved hands,” Barra said.
The hoseline stretch gave firefighters training for bringing a hose down a twisting corridor.
The hallway was like a plywood cattle shoot, nailed together temporarily for the training. But the intermittent blasts of water from hose were real and firefighters had to twist the pressurized hose around corners.

“This is a difficult hose line stretch through a hallway,” Barra said. “It’s designed to encourage team members to work together.”
A fire hose with water shooting from it can be a tough, wayward snake to control. The instructor for the hoseline stretch, a Pittsburgh firefighter, taught that kneeling on the hose allows a firefighter can more easily control it, and he did so with one hand.

For roof-ventilation training, firefighters were required to cut a hole in a section of replaceable plywood located on the container housing the masked confidence maze.

“You break a roof and the smoke goes vertically,” Barra said. “You break a window and it goes horizontally.”
A metal door locked to a metal frame by a wooden wedge was the forcible entry site. The door and frame were metal since it had to take repeated poundings.

And the ladder placement required a team of firefighters to unload ladders from a fire truck and carry them to the site where a “second story” had been built atop the container.

Barra pointed out that when firefighters are working an actual fire, their equipment weighs 80 pounds.
“It’s like carrying a 10-year-old around,” he said.

Fire Chief Lou Venezia said in an email that the masked confidence course was new, built and designed by fire Capt. Rick Rannou.
“Above the container is a roof prop and we practice cutting holes in it,” Venezia said. “During fires this is done to help ventilate the fire from the attic and cocklofts. The instructors are some of the best trainers in the country. I’m happy that the township provides our department with this caliber of training to not only keep our members safe but also the community that we are proud to serve.”

According to Barra, the instructors came this day came from Baltimore, New York and Washington, D.C., in addition to Pittsburgh.