Lexington fire, University of Kentucky combine for training

jwarren@herald-leader.comJanuary 16, 2014 

Firefighters went to school on the University of Kentucky campus Thursday, climbing ladders and scrambling into smoke-filled rooms in full fire gear, while UK students hurried to and from class on the sidewalks below.

It was the second day of the Company Officer Academy, a training program by the Lexington Division of Fire and Emergency Services specially designed for firefighters who recently have been promoted to lieutenant or are seeking promotion.

The program made use of two unoccupied UK dormitories — Boyd Hall and Jewell Hall — to help trainees practice skills that could help save lives in real fire situations.

In one exercise, firefighters used a ladder truck parked on Euclid Avenue to reach the roof of Jewell Hall.

In another — called Vent, Enter, Search — firefighters had to clamber up an extension ladder, smash through a second-floor window at Boyd Hall and search for a "victim" in a room filled with smoke.

The goal was to enter the room, conduct the search and be out in less than a minute, explained Lexington Fire Major Maria Roberts, one of several officers overseeing the training.

"Quick in and out is the idea," Roberts said. "It's something you would do in a fire situation where there is reason to believe someone might be trapped in an upstairs room.

"It's a skill we don't get to practice very often. So, getting to do it in a real building like this is a terrific opportunity."

UK helped by making Boyd and Jewell halls available to the fire department for the training Wednesday and Thursday.

Jewell, which closed this winter, was built in 1939. Boyd, which closed a few years ago, opened in 1925 and was the second-oldest residence hall on campus, after Patterson Hall, which opened in 1903.

But while the old buildings might be out of use for students, they're just about ideal for practicing fire fighting skills. There's no worry about making a mess, even if you bring in barrels of smoldering hay to generate smoke to give the fire training extra authenticity.

Mother nature did her part Thursday afternoon, providing snow flurries and a bitterly cold wind to match conditions firefighters would face battling a real winter blaze.

"It's great because you don't have to worry about getting overheated," Roberts quipped.

The 14 firefighters training in the officer academy already are experienced. A minimum of five years on the job is required before a firefighter can even enter the promotion process, according to Roberts.

But the academy demands more than just physical fire fighting skills. Firefighters seeking promotion also must perfect more mundane abilities, like filling out paperwork, as well as demonstrating leadership skills.

This is the second year the Lexington fire department has offered the academy, and the benefits already are apparent, Roberts said.

"We're seeing the payoff in terms of new officers who are a lot more confident in making decisions and handling personnel issues," she said.

The Lexington department is one of a relatively small number nationwide that require firefighters to complete an academy before being promoted, according to Roberts.

Some members of the Georgetown Fire Department took part in Thursday's training to evaluate whether an academy program might be right for their department, she said.

Meanwhile, the training went on as another contingent of firefighters prepared a ladder to reach a fire victim — fortunately just a mannequin — dangling from an upstairs window at Boyd Hall.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @hlpublicsafety

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