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Training gets firefighters pumped up

May 02, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • Firefighters empty tanker trucks into dump tanks that are then pumped up to the fire drill area during Sunday's exercise on Fruit Tree Drive in Smithsburg.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer,

SMITHSBURG -- A ruptured hose, trouble handling hookups between hoses and a truck that appeared not to be able to dump its water on the first try were among the glitches firefighters faced Sunday morning during a training exercise near Smithsburg.

Approximately 100 firefighters and 20 firetrucks from Maryland and Pennsylvania participated in a Maryland State Firemen's Association's drill in which they had to draft, or pump water, from rural water sources to put out a faux fire.

There was no actual fire, though the site of the "fire" -- the old Bromley Orchards' storage building off Greensburg Road -- burned in a two-alarm fire on Aug. 18, 2006, according to Herald-Mail archives.

Sunday's training exercise was a chance for firefighters to practice pumping water to a rural setting from ponds, streams and a dry hydrant.

While that's something Washington County firefighters have done before, there's always room for improvement, said Dale Fishack, a coordinator for the drill and a lieutenant with Smithsburg Community Volunteer Fire Co.

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Before the drill, Fishack addressed the firefighters at the Smithsburg fire station, which hosted the event.

The state association holds regional drills in the spring and fall, said Doug Alexander, chairman of the state association's Rural Water Supply Committee. Sunday's drill was the first held in Washington County.

From Washington County, officials with Smithsburg, Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co. and the Washington County Division of Emergency Services participated.

Because the event was staged in advance, communications were worked out before the fake fire was dispatched. County firefighters are still using the old radio communications system, which meant getting cell phone numbers from out-of-county firetruck drivers and having a county liaison with a radio with those units to ensure communications during the drill, said Kevin Lewis, the county's director of emergency services.

Lewis said he hopes the new radio system, which will ease communications with companies outside the county, will be phased in starting in June.

For the drill, firefighters were to have 250 gallons of water per minute on the "fire" within 5 minutes of arriving. The next goal was to sustain that volume for 10 more minutes, said Mark Davis, one of the drill organizers. The third goal was to sustain a water flow of at least 500 gallons per minute for at least the first hour, and then increase it for the remainder of the two-hour drill, Davis said.

After the first two goals were met, one of the two supply lines to the fire ruptured, Fishack said. Within about 30 minutes, the water volume to the scene was back up to 500 gallons per minute, he said after the drill.

The operation had 2,100 gallons per minute pumping during the last 20 minutes of the drill, Fishack said.

"I think it was a great drill to bring to Washington County," Fishack said.

The drill opened some eyes to the reality of real rural water supply and what can be achieved without fire hydrants, he said.

"We learned some lessons. Some mistakes were made," Fishack said.

At Bikle Road, where firefighters were drafting from Little Antietam Creek, the pumper being used was too small, Fishack said. It could only pump up to 500 gallons per minute, so a firetruck with a bigger pump capacity should have been used to draft there, he said.

No one was injured during the drill, Fishack said.

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