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April 15, 2014

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Drills keep firefighters sharp for when the real deal occurs

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Brian Nordli

A North Las Vegas Fire Department firefighter participates in a training exercise at the Fiesta Casino parking garage Monday morning, Dec. 9, 2013.

North Las Vegas Fire Dept. Training

The North Las Vegas Fire Department gathers during training exercises at the Fiesta Casino parking garage Monday morning, Dec. 9, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The dispatch call crackled over the North Las Vegas firefighters’ radios at 9:25 a.m. There is a car fire on the third floor of the Fiesta Rancho parking garage.

In reality, there is no fire, only six 3-foot-tall orange traffic cones representing fire for a training drill. But to the firefighters, it’s real.

Engine 50 arrives first, and the firefighters file out of the truck. They don’t rush, but move with a purpose, each tackling a different job, careful not to make a mistake. Every minute wasted means the fire could spread to another car or kill somebody.

Two firefighters unfurl the hose and lay it to the side of the fenced-off concrete structure, while another two climb the stairs to the third floor. Three minutes later, they drop rope down to the firefighters laying out hose and use it to haul the hose up to the third floor. Another engine arrives and uses its lift to bring up a hose.

Nearly nine minutes after the call, the fire is out.

Every month the fire department practices a different emergency procedure. Last month it was a technical rescue; this month a parking garage fire. Although the exercises are just practice, they will be crucial if and when such an emergency does occur.

“A minute can make the biggest difference in burning one car down or burning five cars,” Williams said. “So it’s, ‘How do we effectively get up there safely for us in a much more timely manner?’”

Parking garage fire tactics sound simple in theory. Firefighters must lift the hose up three stories into the parking garage, pinpoint the fire and then unleash a burst of water, all while working as fast and efficiently as possible. In practice, however, parking garage fires are tricky, Williams said.

Firefighters often have to fight through a dense fog of smoke to locate the fire, the threat of the fire spreading to additional cars and few access points for hose. On Monday, the crew also dealt with nearly 20 mph wind gusts, 38-degree weather and a fenced-off stairwell.

Capt. Gary Stover said that although parking garage fires are rare in North Las Vegas because of its lack of such structures, these training exercises allow firefighters to develop tactics and keep their skills sharp.

“Without actually getting out here doing it, sitting at a table talking about it, you never actually get to do these things," he said.

Throughout the event, Stover took notes on a dry-erase board. After the simulation, he addressed the issues with the crew like a coach talking to his team.

He liked the responding crews’ tactics, but he felt communication could have been improved. Still, anytime a fire can be doused in less than 10 minutes it's a successful mission, he said.

Afterward the firefighters returned to their stations, and the simulation was tweaked to present a new scenario. Another garage fire was about to come crackling through the radio.

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