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'... to get an idea of what we do'

April 09, 2006|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

Get into large, bulky turnout gear and strap on a 35-pound air pack.

Pull on a face mask that will limit your visibility.

Now, crawl into a dark, smoke-filled building. Find and extinguish a fire, and find your way back out.

Hagerstown firefighters asked city officials and local media Friday and Saturday to perform the same tasks they do every day.

The fire operations training was held for several hours each day at the Hagerstown Fire Department Training Academy on Bowman Road.

Hagerstown City Council members Lewis C. Metzner and Kelly S. Cromer, city Attorney Mark K. Boyer, city Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, a Herald-Mail reporter, and a cameraman and reporter from NBC25 were in attendance.

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Council member Penny M. Nigh was scheduled to attend, but was ill.

"This is to help you better understand us, to get an idea of what we do," Hagerstown Fire Department Chief Gary Hawbaker said.

About three months ago, Andy Hartman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1605, told Hawbaker that other fire departments were holding the training nationally. He believed it could be useful in Hagerstown.

"City officials need to know what we're doing," Hartman said. "They need to know about the physical and emotional demands."

Participants learned about fire behavior, and went inside a burn building used for firefighter training to extinguish a fire.

Firefighters also demonstrated and assisted with a search and rescue. Trainees crawled into a building filled with smoke, and simulated rescuing an infant. Once the infant had been found, they crawled out of the building.

The final exercise was breaking apart a vehicle using spreaders and cutters. These would be used if someone was trapped in a vehicle after a crash, firefighters said.

Using heavy tools, participants broke apart doors and smashed windows, simulating freeing an actual victim.

"It's exhausting," Cromer said. "There's a balance between how physically hard it is and how mentally hard."

She said she appreciated the work the city's firefighters did before the training, but afterward had a much greater appreciation for their effort.

"It made me commit more than ever that we need more firefighters sooner rather than later," Metzner said.

Hagerstown Fire Department officials have asked for additional personnel.

"I believed there was a need before (the training)," Metzner said. "But this made it crystal clear. And I think the council understands that."

Hawbaker said he had planned on three other activities Saturday - extinguishing a car fire, moving a hose up a ladder and removing a victim from the third floor of a building. He said as the day progressed, there wasn't time for those activities.

However, he said Hagerstown Fire Department officials would like to hold the training regularly and would try to incorporate the other exercises in future events. Eventually, residents might be invited to attend.

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