TRAVERSE CITY — Fourteen minutes.
That’s how long it took a team of eight firefighters to hustle from the bottom to the top of a stairwell inside one of Traverse City’s tallest buildings.
Probationary firefighter Aaron Snay lined up Wednesday alongside seven of his teammates beneath the towering Riverview Terrace apartment building. Snay joined the department in May after graduating from Lake Superior State University with a degree in fire science.
And this week was his first chance to tackle a taxing training scenario inside one of the region’s tallest buildings.
“This high rise training is super important,” Snay said.
Crews took turns tackling the hulking tower’s stairwells during five days of training. They all faced the same task: hustle from the second floor to the eighth, attach hoses and move to the ninth to fight a fire and save a trapped victim.
James Smielewski was the training officer and lieutenant overseeing the simulation Wednesday, but he took a role as a player coach.
He explained some of the simulation. The team lugged standpipe kits with them, including 200 feet of hose, a bag of tools, thermal imaging cameras, and more.
He said the simulation is timed, but speed isn’t the only marker of success when a team hustles from the ground to the ninth floor.
“We did as well as we could with our staffing,” he said.
He said the simulations normally work best with teams of five, but Wednesday’s was a team of eight. Two of the firefighters were new, only probationary at the time, he said this was their first time being timed and having to wear a blackout mask, which simulates the loss of visibility from smoke.
Smielewski took on a role of safety officer, ensuring everyone is safe during before, during and after the drill. He said Wednesday’s heat made hydration especially important.
Snay said confronting fires, real or simulated, in tall buildings isn’t an everyday occurrence; it’s better to have training now rather than having a crash course in a real fire in the middle of the night.
Snay hadn’t faced such a scenario until last week, but said he was trying to “soak up all the information that’s given” to him while he’s young.
While Snay and his team were inside the building there was another teammate Tyler Vandemark was outside as the engineer.
Vandemark said the building they were working with had a dry standpipe system, meaning the water wasn’t already in the pipes. He was in charge of locating the fire hydrant and the standpipe, then connecting the fire engine to the building to supply water to the firefighters above. He had to be in close communication with the team in the building in order to make sure they had the right water pressure and could get the water they need to fight the fire.
Vandemark said the engineer role, like many other roles in the fire department rotates. He said one day he could be fighting a fire, the next performing a water rescue.
Vandemark said he and the other firefighters on the department have to know a lot of different disciplines, and it’s important to get as much practice with them as possible.