Fire Department recruits  learn the ropes  to save lives,  put out blazes

Grand Junction Fire Department cadets Jonathan Conroy, left, and Jeremy Musgrave walk out the fire hoses after they performed their live fire training in Grand Junction on Wednesday.

The Grand Junction Fire Department Recruit Academy visited the future site of Fire Station 6 on Wednesday not to check out what could one day be their office, but rather to start a fire and see how quickly and efficiently they could put it out.

The 11 recruits conducted training activities throughout the day at the empty house as it provided hands-on training for future Grand Junction firefighters.

Trainings and simulations over the monthslong academy have included technical rope rescue, swift water rescue, live fire simulations and more.

"You have these foundational skills no matter what station you are at," firefighter and academy instructor Sean Hazelhurst said during technical ropes training at Colorado National Monument last month.

He and other instructors helped show the future GJFD firefighters how to properly belay should they ever respond to a rescue.

A few weeks later, the same recruits headed into a burning building to test the skills they learned in the classroom over the past few months.

The academy, which began in August, takes recruits through every aspect of being a member of the Grand Junction Fire Department, which along with the fire suppression responsibilities also includes training for disaster mitigation and specialized rescue activities.

Fire operations include the hazardous materials team, technical rescue team (confined space rescue, swift water rescue, technical rope rescue and trench rescue) and the joint fire/police hazardous device team as well as EMS operations.

"Everything we do encompasses the job we train for in some way," Hazelhurst said.

Early training tasks included learning how to put on gear, using equipment properly and basic ropes and knots training, while later training activities help put it all together for the trainees.

At the end of each training block, there are written and skills evaluations.

"The thing with our job is when we go online we don't know what will happen that day," Hazelhurst added. "That first day on the job you have to be a contributing member of the team."

On Wednesday, live fire training consisted of the 11 recruits going into a burning house to simulate responding to a house fire.

"This is the first live fire experience for first-time recruits … it's exciting," GJFD Capt. Matt Carson said. "It's the first time in the academy that there is serious risk involved. This is why they become firefighters,"

Aside from giving the recruits hands-on training, Carson said the simulation, which included lighting flammable materials within the building, required the department to jump through a lot of hoops to ensure safety measures were followed.

This included notifying neighbors and having an ambulance onsite for any trainees who needed medical attention, as well as multiple firefighters from the department to oversee the operation.

Carson added that the materials now used in household furniture and home construction are more flammable than ever before, making Wednesday's training that much more important. As part of the simulation, the onsite captain made a perimeter check before the trainees went inside the building to knock down flames from a fire started with natural fibers like hay.

"They haven't been in critical situations like this before," Carson explained. "There's potential for the house to burn down. We want them moving with purpose and a sense of urgency."

He said the live burn training increases stress levels and urgency.

"This is the high-risk, low frequency part of the job and it's critical they perform well," he said.

Following training, new recruits are set to graduate Dec. 5.

The Grand Junction Fire Department will also be hosting community meetings at 4 and 6 p.m. on Thursday to get feedback from the community. The meetings, hosted at 625 Ute Ave., will include an overview of the services provided by the GJFD and their planned growth as a result of the passage of the 2B sales tax last spring.

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