In 1992, a firefighter in Denver was killed when he fell unconscious, trapped in a narrow space surrounded by filing cabinets. His fellow firefighters worked inside the burning building for 40 minutes but were unable to rescue him.
Since then, a technique called the Denver Drill has been established for such situations.
On Friday, firefighters of the Warren Fire Department watched an instructional video on the drill and spent hours at the training tower off Harmar Street practicing it.
Firefighters from the Warren Fire Department train on use of the Denver Drill
The firefighters were trying to decide if they liked the system. "We're trying to determine the best method for our department," Chief Sam Pascuzzi said. "We like to have a standard way of doing something."
A firefighter in full gear can weigh close to 400 pounds. Using the Denver Drill, one firefighter can use simple one-inch webbing to create a harness for the victim, then connect the harness to a rope. The rope comes in through a window and is looped over a rung on a ladder supported above the window. Two firefighters on the ground can, with the help of the firefighter inside, hoist the victim through the window and to the ground. Utilizing a system that includes pulleys makes the work even easier.
The old method of rescuing a victim through a window involved a firefighter carrying the victim down a ladder. "It's dangerous to remove a civilian from a second story window by a ground ladder," Capt. Dave Krogler said. "A pulley system makes it so much easier."
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Denver Drill in Warren
City of Warren Fire Department Chief Sam Pascuzzi is lowered to the ground from the second story of the department’s training tower by firefighters Shawn Jones and Jason Schott.
Each firefighter carries a length of the webbing and the high-point anchor system is taken along on all calls. The anchor in comprised of a rope, three carabiners, and two pulleys.
During the practice, firefighters had to conduct a search of the dark training tower - a 24-foot by 24-foot, three story tall structure set up to simulate a house - until they found the victim. The team had to contact command, identify the location and ask for a high-point anchor. They then used the webbing to create a "hasty harness," hooked the harness to the anchor and helped the victim out the window.
The drill then moved into a portion of the tower that simulates the conditions in which the Denver firefighter was killed. The "hallway" is eight feet long, 28 inches wide and ends at a 24-inch tall window that is 42 inches off the floor. Only one firefighter at a time can harness the victim.
Operations and Training Officer Joe Beardsley timed the first two Denver Drill rescues from the hallway, and one old-style ground ladder rescue. The firefighters, two in the tower and two on the ladder, finished the ground ladder rescue in 2 minutes 22 seconds.
The one-man Denver Drill in the confined space took 3 minutes 57 seconds. The second drill took 3 minutes 41 seconds.
The new technique took longer, but was accomplished by fewer firefighters. Also, in the old method, the victim and the firefighters are higher in the room longer as they stand to help the victim out of the window. Heat and smoke are much worse problems near the level of the top a window than near the floor, Beardsley said.
"As far as working with a smaller team, this works much better," Lt. Andrew Moore said.
In most of the drills, the victim was a 165-pound dummy named Phil, but Pascuzzi assumed the role of victim for one of the Denver Drill attempts to make sure the procedure would not be too painful.
"You want to know if you're going to hurt the victim," Pascuzzi said. "I didn't feel any undue pressure."
Pascuzzi was impressed with the simplicity of the system.
"If I'm incident commander, all I have to say is, 'high-point anchor, division 2, side B,'" he said. The division and side tell the ladder crew where to set up.
The firefighters will continue to use the more familiar method of carrying a victim out on a ladder when it is appropriate, but the Denver Drill will takes its place in the department's repertoire.
"This isn't something you use every fire," Krogler said. "Hopefully we'll never have to use it."
But, the firefighters will be familiar with the technique and ready to employ it if they need to.
"It's like everything we do," Krogler said. "You have to practice."
As the dummy was being brought back up to the second floor, Krogler was already talking to Firefighter Shawn Jones, who was next in line, about things that went well and things that could have gone better.