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Smoky challenge

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Firefighters from Laconia and Gilford train at the former McDurgin building on Union Avenue in Laconia on Friday. The building is scheduled for demolition, so it provided a rare opportunity for training. (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Firefighters perfect skills in doomed building

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — One of the most important skills a firefighter can have is the ability to rescue a fellow crew member who is overcome during a blaze.

That's just what a dozen Laconia and Gilford firemen were doing Friday inside an aging commercial building set for demolition.

During a break in the training at 570 Union Ave., Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson addressed the troops.

“It could be you,” he said, pointing at a firefighter.

“It could be you,” he told another. “And that's the way you think about it: You're rescuing yourself. And the better you are at it, the quicker you're going to get a firefighter out. It could be a cardiac arrest. It could be he ran out of air. It could be a ceiling collapsed on him. We all know there are multiple reasons a firefighter could get hurt in a burning building.”

Firefighters are all equipped with a personal safety rope, but those are saved for use only in true emergency situations.

In training, Erickson joined his men to simulate a rescue in which a firefighter had to be hauled from a cellar, using a ladder, a stretcher and ropes. In place of the injured firefighter was a 175-pound dummy.

In another simulation, firefighters pretended there was a cellar fire in which they did not have direct access to the cellar.

Their solution was to use power equipment to cut a triangular-shaped hole in the first floor so that a special cellar nozzle attached to a fire hose could be deployed. Vision was obscured with simulated smoke.

The task wasn't easy. Floor joists and vents initially got in the way, and everything is harder when visibility is impaired.

Such a fire isn't common.

“Those are some unusual tactics we don't use a lot, so that's why we train with them,” said Erickson, his white helmet discolored from the many fires he has fought.

Firefighting is hard, heavy work.

“One of the things we're practicing is three different ways to carry a 39-foot ground ladder,” he said. “People ask me all the time, 'Why does it take so many firemen to raise a ladder? Our ladders are rated to hold 750 pounds. The common ladder at a hardware store is rated to hold 250. That 39-foot ladder is a beast.”

He compared the training to that done by a football team.

“That's how you get good at what you do,” Erickson said. “What does Bill Belichick say? ‘Just do your job and do it well.’ Why do the Patriots practice all week long to throw a football when Tom Brady is the best quarterback on Earth? They don't want to make mistakes. And we have to practice the same way.”

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Firefighters from Laconia and Gilford train at the former McDurgin building on Union Avenue in Laconia on Friday. Lifting their 39-foot ground ladder and a 175-pound dummy are part of their training.  (Alan MacRae/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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