Those who saw smoke rising from Jefferson City's Hyde Park Training Facility on Saturday morning need not be alarmed. Though the fire and heat were authentic, they were part of a controlled simulation for student firefighters finishing a basic training course.
The seven students in the nine-week firefighting class capped off their training with executions of fire attacks, search and rescue operations and roof ventilation. Firefighters from several districts in Cole County assisted with the event.
Alan Braun, a training officer with the Cole County Fire District, said the fire attacks involved entering a building, locating and extinguishing a fire, and using hydraulic ventilation to cool down the room to temperatures low enough to survive.
For the search and rescue aspect of the training, students rescued dummies to simulate finding and rescuing humans. Saturday's simulation was unusual, Braun said, because it involved two dummies made to represent an adult and an infant.
"It teaches them not to be complacent in their search," Braun said. "It gets them to look around them, to make sure there's not a second patient or a baby."
In preparation for the fire simulation, Braun said, the crew allows the heat in the facility to build slowly, an important step, as temperatures inside the structure can easily reach 1000 degrees. The facility is protected by panels of Padgenite, a thermal insulation material that can be damaged if not properly cared for.
Students who complete the course earn a basic firefighting certificate from the state of Missouri. Braun said the certificate demonstrates the student can safely perform tasks critical to being a firefighter, including putting out car fires, rolling out hoses and operating fire trucks.
"It's everything a person needs to become a firefighter on a basic level," he said.
Students who went through the simulation were awed by the experience.
"I don't have any words," said Brad Kempker, a student from Henley, as he helped clean up the facility after the fire had been extinguished. "It was fun, but it wasn't as easy as you'd think."
Henley said he was inspired to start firefighting because he knows several people who work in the field. Furthermore, after firefighters put out a blaze on a property he used to own - a fact for which he is very grateful - he decided that he, too, wanted to dedicate his time to helping others.
One of the most unexpected aspects of Saturday's simulation, Kempker said, was how difficult it was to see through the smoke and darkness.
"You think, there's fire, so there's going to be light, but there's not as much as you'd think it is," he said.