The parking lot was filled with cars and trucks, but the fire engines were still in their bays at the ready. There was no fire alarm and the smoke was harmless, created as part of training exercise for the county’s firefighters, said Clint Cochran, a firefighter with the Heflin Volunteer Fire Department.
Cochran said the Alabama Fire College brought its mobile burn trailer to Heflin to give all 12 Cleburne County fire departments the opportunity to train.
It was scheduled to stay through the week.
Monday, Heflin, Micaville and Ranburne Fire Departments were using the trailer. Tuesday, Muscadine Fire Department was training.
Heflin Fire Chief Jonathan Adams said many of the firefighters will come back multiple nights to satisfy their 12 hour live fire training requirement for the year. Each night, the firefighters earn about 4 hours of training time, Adams said.
The firefighters are required to put in training hours every year. For fire departments with paid firefighters, that’s easy to achieve. They offer training opportunities nearly every shift,
Adams said. But volunteer fire departments have a harder time meeting the requirements. The burn trailer is one way they can offer the opportunity to their members, he said.
The burn trailer looks like a tractor trailer with a room on each end and in the middle a small control panel is recessed into the trailer with windows looking into the rooms on either side. The control panel controls the simulated smoke and the gas that feeds the fire in each room, said Corey Cochran, who was running the panel. Inside the rooms firefighters work to put out the fire.
“This is the safest possible environment for them to learn,” Adams said. “One button can shut everything down.”
For some it was the first blaze they had battled.
Kim Hogeland, 42, a volunteer with the Muscadine Volunteer Fire Department, said the burn trailer was her first experience with live fires. With just about a year under her belt, she said she’s only worked on the outside.
“Usually I’m outside helping with the hose,” Hogeland said.
She enjoyed her experience in the trailer and it’s made her feel more prepared for what she’ll find when she does have to go into a burning structure.
“When I first done it, I was a little nervous ‘cause it’s hot and the smoke and everything,” Hogeland said. “But the second time, it wasn’t that bad.”
Tyler Willhoite, 20, has been volunteering with the department as a junior firefighter since he was about 9, he said.
He’s done mostly wood fires, but after he turned18 he was able to start working on structure fires.
“The first time that we have done it, it’s like going into something that you didn’t know,” Willhoite said. The burn trailer helps prepare you, he said. It shows you what to do and where to go. It gives you the opportunity to learn the proper technique to put out a fire in a building, he added.
It also helps you get used to using the breathing packs the firefighters wear and teaches you how to communicate with the other firefighters during a fire, Willhoite said.
Jonathon Austin, 21, who has been working with the Muscadine Department for more than 6 years, said it also helps partners get to know how each other will react during a fire.
“It’s pretty realistic,” Austin said. “In an actual house fire, you don’t know what you’re coming up on. You don’t know what could be in the house or what’s on fire.”
The burn trailer is a controlled burn, Cochran said. The purpose is to give the firefighters the opportunity to learn the best technique to put out the fire, he added.
“This gives them a way of learning to fight the fire correctly and efficiently,” Cochran said.
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.