Indiana firefighters train for big box blaze


AVON, Ind. (WISH) — Local fire departments are teaming up to train for one of the most dangerous situations they can face, a fire in a big box -type structure, like a large retail or office space.

For the training, the firefighters were granted access to the former Trine University space in Avon. It’s about 7,000 square feet.

“We have fake smoke out there. We have simulated mannequins, simulated firefighters. We’re stretching hose in to see the lengths and distances,” John Shafer, division chief of fire instruction with the Washington Township Avon Fire Department said.

A fire in a large commercial space is rare compared to a house fire.

“It’s going to take more air, it’s going to take more energy, it’s going to take more work,” instructor Don Abbott said. “It’s a challenge, just because of the size of the building.”

Abbott is a firefighter and instructor with more than five decades of experience. He currently works for the Phoenix Fire Department in Arizona, but spent more than 20 years with the Indianapolis Fire Department. He said if firefighters go into a large space with a residential mentality, it could end in tragedy.

“If we haven’t trained and exercised, then we’re getting ourselves into, we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” Shafer said.

So these crews are are working like this is a second alarm fire.

“Pace yourself out and understand that you can only do so much and then you’re going to run out of air so give yourself enough time to get out of the building with the air that you’ve got left,” Abbott said.

These firefighters have found a beeping oxygen tank and mask, but not the firefighter to go with it. Now, they must find the mannequin quickly without knowing the layout of the building.

“We’re modeling after some very infamous fires that have happened around the nation where firefighters have lost their lives in big type box structures,” Shafer said.

When it’s found, the mannequin is dragged to safety, but it took longer than these firefighters wanted. It’s a valuable lesson for what could happen in the future.

“Safety comes first and foremost, but at the same time they have a job that they have to do. You just do it as safe as you possibly can,” Abbott said.

The training spans several days and is hosted by Washington Township Avon Fire Department. Many central Indiana departments took part, including some as far away as Bloomington and Lebanon.

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