Harrison fire training room is full of surprises
A room once full of thousands of pounds of old hoses and other unused items now is full of surprises designed to train firefighters.
A simulation of a three-story house has been built inside the former storage room attached to the Citizens Hose fire hall in Harrison. There are no windows, and the entire interior is painted black.
Fire Chief Sean Jones said the room is a maze of obstacles and hazards including drop-down doors, stairs on pulleys and moveable walls. They can simulate smoke with a fog machine.
"There are over 50 obstacles we can have in here," Jones said.
"This is to train area firefighters," he said. "We're going to start with our own guys then start to expand it to all of our neighboring departments throughout the area. The point is to make us safer to make you guys safer."
The Tarentum Eagles Ladies Auxiliary has taken on the training room as a project, and has been raising money to help pay for it.
Since February, the auxiliary has raised $3,000 toward a $10,000 goal they hope to reach by February 2018, Ruth Jordan, auxiliary treasurer, said. More fundraisers, including a flea market and a spaghetti dinner, are planned.
"We just wanted to try to help the firemen and let the community know we're here to assist people," she said. "We thought it was a good project. It will save a lot of lives and keep our firemen safe. That's important to us."
Beginning in January, Jones said it took about a month to clear out about 16,000 pounds of old hoses, scrap and junk from the room. Construction of the training structure started in May, and it will be finished this week.
Jamie Berdar of Lower Burrell, a firefighter with Lower Burrell No. 3, built it.
"It's pretty neat," he said. "They're going to be able to change it around a lot so, for months to come, it will stay new to them.
"It allows them to change different door configurations, change different search patterns to the point where their members won't memorize it any time soon. That was the whole point of it, for it not to become stagnant quickly."
Citizens Hose firefighter Josh Pearce was one of the first three firefighters to go through the maze this week, as the department demonstrated the room for members of the Eagles auxiliary.
After training on a "left hand search," where firefighters search a building by going constantly to the left, Pearce said it was "very good."
"I was right behind one of my other firefighters who went through the floor," he said. "It's an awesome learning experience. Not every call you go on you're going to have that happen. But whenever it does happen, you're going to really need to know how to react and what to do.
"I can't imagine a better way of learning how to do that than a training scenario before you actually have to do it in a real life scenario."
Jordan and other members of the Eagles auxiliary got to watch firefighters take three runs through the maze. In one, the firefighters became separated, and one was running out of air.
"It was really scary if that would've been real," she said.
"It was remarkable. I never saw anything like that," she said. "I can't believe what those poor guys have to go through. It has to be really scary to go into a fire like that."
Jordan said her husband, John Jordan Sr., was once a firefighter. She's glad he isn't anymore.
"It's very frightening what they go through," she said. "To be in a building in complete darkness like that, I can't imagine. They're putting their lives on the line. Are they going to get to go home at the end of the day?"
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4701, email@example.com or on Twitter @BCRittmeyer.