Where there's smoke ...

...there's training, atop former Medford post office building
Medford Fire-Rescue Capt. Dale Mawhirter stands atop the abandoned federal building on Eighth Street Tuesday. The department is using smoke machines inside the building to train for high-rise fires. Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

The smoke pouring Tuesday from the former Medford post office building on West Eighth Street was part of a disaster training drill staged by Medford Fire-Rescue crews.

The agency plans to host similar training exercises though Thursday, Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Brian Fish said.

"We do have a lot of people driving by and wondering what's going on," Fish said. "We don't want anyone to think it's a real fire."

The goal is to simulate the conditions of a fire raging in the top floors of a tall building. Since most of Medford's large buildings are occupied, the department cannot host a training in them.

The former post office provides a perfect opportunity to take advantage of an empty building, Fish said.

"The building has been mostly gutted and we can drag hoses inside and fill it with smoke," Fish said.

The smoke is a nontoxic substance belched out of a machine used on Hollywood movie sets, Fish said.

The trainers will funnel the smoke into a staircase or a room and give the firefighters a scenario to see how they perform.

"The goal here is to figure out ways to clear the smoke out quickly," Fish said.

Most people who perish in fires actually die from smoke inhalation, which can occur within minutes.

"We look into what's the best way to get rid of that smoke," Fish said. "We can either take out a window, or send it up through a roof. It all depends on the situation."

The exercise will help firefighters should there ever be a blaze in a large building such as the Rogue Valley Manor or the Lithia headquarters downtown.

Firefighters normally won't enter a burning building to save property, but when lives are at stake, such risks are necessary.

"We'll do whatever it takes to save a life," Fish said.

This training will cap the usefulness of the former post office building. It is scheduled for demolition, with plans to build a new 86,000-square-foot, two-story building that will consolidate Jackson County health services.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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