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Planning for the unpredictable

In an abandoned White City warehouse, rescuers from two agencies have been making sure they're ready when one of their own gets hurt.

Working with no light, heavy smoke and scant information, crews at Medford Fire-Rescue and Jackson County Fire District 3 Wednesday afternoon trained to make sure they could stay flexibly prepared while circumstances changed in a simulated warehouse fire at a county-owned building on Antelope Road in White City.

The event, utilizing a building rescuers haven't trained in before, has run since Tuesday and continues Thursday, is part of a series of trainings that bring crews from the two agencies together five engines at a time to ensure they're responding consistently, according to Fire District 3 firefighter Kelly Harrington.

Fire doesn't know if it's a green engine or a red engine, so it's important to "operate tactically the same," Harrington said, describing everything from the radio channels used to the terminology used to describe a fire's location.

"it's somewhat of a marriage," Harrington said, describing the need for efficient communication.

With 12-16 firefighters and multiple battalion chiefs typically on-site during such a warehouse fire, it's important that rescuers have a strategic plan for unpredictable conditions, according to Harrington. Otherwise rescuers could get hurt, he said.

As with a real fire, rescuers are forced to exercise their fact-gathering skills. In the training, dispatchers call in the report of a warehouse fire over the radio, where they work with vague reports of smoke and flames seen. Crews respond from their stations to the scene, then must ask around to find information about where a dummy victim is located inside the building. 

Working without light and wearing protective equipment, firefighters use equipment such as an infrared thermal imaging scanner, used in this instance to assess the building and track the location of a dummy victim trapped inside. Fire District 3 firefighter Jon Vait said the imaging technology is hardly new, but has improved and dropped in price over the past decade, meaning every engine is equipped with at least one device.

Conditions change in actual fires, so partway through the rescue, the team simulates how they'd respond should the roof collapse during a rescue.   

"It's a very real possibility," Harrington said.

In Wednesday afternoon's training, firefighter Rob English was trapped under the simulated rubble. Firefighters are trained to first communicate that a firefighter is trapped inside, provide the better-protected firefighter a larger oxygen bottle, then resume focusing to the trapped victim.

Fire District 3 spokeswoman Ashley Lara said the training plays an important role in ensuring swift, consistent response. Two victims were quickly pulled from a Central Point burning home to safety in the 100 block of Wilson Road Dec. 17, thanks in part to recent extrication training, according to Lara.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Firefighters search through smoke for victims in a simulated structure fire and building collapse Wednesday during a training in White City. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta