The next in a series of downtown Sparks buildings meets the wrecking ball next month. Meanwhile, the simple cube of bricks and wood provides its last community service: a training ground for saving lives.
The building’s dilapidated structure gives fire crews a rare chance to hone their skills in unfamiliar terrain, said Sparks Fire Department Training Capt. Shawn McEvers. The Washoe County Regional Training Center offers advanced training in immaculate conditions but lacks the realism and unpredictability of a “live” building, McEvers added.
“This is a real live scenario,” McEvers said. “Guys will be crawling through furniture, broken doors and appliances.”
The building’s windows were broken out and floor tiles removed during recent asbestos abatement required before the building can be demolished.
“They really tore it up,” McEvers said.
For Saturday’s training, the building's second floor was the scene of a theoretical structure fire threatening lives. McEvers showed firefighters a scary photo illustration of the mock scenario- flames and smoke billowed from the windows of one fully involved corner apartment. Smoke filled the entire floor of eight apartments, making visibility at or near zero disorienting to both victims and firefighters. Two “victims” were reportedly trapped somewhere in the eight apartments.
Hose lines were deployed up the building's steep exterior stairway as firefighters hunted down the fire’s “seat” using a thermal imaging camera, or TIC. Feeling their way along the walls through blinding smoke, a second TIC-equipped search team looked for fake “victims” (scraps of fire hose with hot packs) hidden in two apartment bathrooms. Real house fire victims sometimes seek protection by huddling in their bathtubs, McEvers said.
After each successful search, firefighters were asked to sketch building's the interesting apartment configuration. Modern buildings with standard floor plans are generally easier to navigate, McEvers said.
Until its demise next month, the structure provides a unique experience for both rookie and veteran firefighters.
“It (fire training) is beneficial for everyone,” McEvers said. “The majority of our calls are EMS (Emergency Medical Service) but fires are our highest risk calls. We have to keep our skills up.” Besides fires, firefighters handle all types of emergencies including hazardous spills, gas leaks, earthquakes, floods and a rising number of non-life threatening medical calls.
All three SFD battalions — around 80 to 85 firefighters — will rotate through the training scenario before the building’s destruction on or around November 23. The Sparks Police SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team may use the structure for explosive training exercises.