Firefighters get unique training opportunity

Empty building offers rare training experience


Littleton firefighters were like kids at recess Feb. 25, playing with the big toys and tearing stuff up.
“This was a golden opportunity for us,” said Chief Chris Armstrong, standing in front of the shell of King Soopers at Littleton Boulevard and Broadway.
With demolition slated to start on the building on Feb. 28, Armstrong saw a chance to set the troops loose with power tools and sledgehammers to practice skills that, thankfully, they hardly ever need to use.
First up was how to cut a hole through a roof. After a member of the wildland team demonstrated how to use the Stihl power saws, a chainsaw and a circular, they lugged them up a ladder from the second story to the roof along with a bunch of other heavy items. In the bitter cold wind, they brushed away the top layer of rocks, cut through the top layer and finally through the corrugated steel that was the ceiling.
Capt. Gene Nagle reminded them that in a real fire, they'd need to check for bubbling tar, sagging areas, collapse zones and a way out should they need it.
“Typically we wouldn't go up there if we didn't have to,” he said.
Later, they got to bash holes through the thick brick-and-mortar walls of the old Walgreens building. The trick was to find the empty spots between the studs and just keep smashing away with a pick or sledgehammer. Nagle explained the hole should be about 21 inches off the floor in order to avoid wiring at the bottom of the wall, and a little more than 14 inches wide to allow the firefighter and his oxygen tank room to get through, but not so wide as to knock through a stud and maybe bring the whole wall down on top of themselves.
Taking turns as they tired, it took nearly a half hour for the hole to open up.
“Every second's a minute and every minute's an hour when you call 911,” said Nagle.
When they were done, they wanted to know if they were allowed to breach any door they wanted in the building. The answer was yes, so they tackled the toughest one they could find — the rear security door on the liquor store. It proved more daunting than they expected, but they ultimately conquered both the door and the gate that was inside.
Nagle said that was their reality, as they never know what they're going to find when they get to a live scene. They try to get the firefighters some hands-on training at least a couple times a year, but opportunities like the King Soopers building are rare.
“It teaches them confidence and competence,” he said. “Then if they get in a tight spot, they can take a break, relax and think about it, and know they can get out of the situation.”


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