Youngstown firefighters go to great heights to update skills

By Sean Barron


Over the last 10 years, the city has undergone a major renaissance that continues.

Formerly vacant buildings are occupied with businesses and residents, and new high-tech buildings have replaced razed structures.

In keeping with such changing demographics and infrastructure, the Youngstown Fire Department’s procedures must be current, too.

That is the main thrust behind a series of three-day training sessions for firefighters that began Tuesday. The seminars are focused on showing them strategies for dealing with high-rise fires.

“The downtown is growing, and we realize some of our equipment and procedures might be outdated,” noted Capt. Fred DeLuca, one of those conducting the seminars that continue today and Thursday.

DeLuca, a 20-year Youngstown firefighter, explained that a $35,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant allowed his department to buy better hoses and nozzles. The new hoses can handle about three times the volume of water as their predecessors, he said.

“The increase in efficiency is huge” for dealing with fires in tall buildings, the captain added.

One session Tuesday saw about 20 firefighters responding to a simulated fire on the eighth floor of the vacant 12-story Wick Building, 36 W. Federal St.

The coordinated scenario started with firefighters attaching a 2-inch-in-diameter hose to an outside standpipe, then, in assembly-line fashion, taking the hose up seven flights of stairs to a staging area and standpipe on the floor below the simulated fire. Along the way, they calmly communicated with one another about how much hose was needed for example.

Other topics included setting up a staging area and a command system, as well as discussing techniques for carrying up to 100 pounds of equipment through stairwells without becoming fatigued.

The importance of such training has already been realized.

On Monday, firefighters responded to a two-alarm apartment fire on the ninth floor of the Gutknecht Tower building on East Wood Street.

DeLuca praised the efforts of those who fought the fire, the cause of which remains under investigation.

DeLuca noted that some 80- to 100-year-old downtown structures, such as the Wick Building, are undergoing renovations, which necessitates certain changes in firefighting strategies. For example, plastics and other materials are being used, making firefighters’ jobs more dangerous, he continued.

Also conducting the sessions is Lt. Fred Beehler, who noted that protocol changes include more assistance with high-rise blazes, a greater number of people handling hoses and the use of different radio frequencies.

In addition, someone is in charge of locking elevators in tall structures to ensure no one is trapped, he said.

Beehler explained that in a typical high-rise fire, the operations command is set up on the floor below the blaze; the staging area is usually two floors beneath.

In the event of a high-rise downtown fire, his department would receive assistance from other departments, DeLuca explained, adding that good communication is critical.

“You get one chance to get it right,” he said.

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