“May Day, May Day,” says firefighter/paramedic Jeff Bullock. He presses the red square alarm signal attached to his pack that lets his team know there is a problem. He then tells command that he has lost his partner while following the hose line on a search-and-rescue mission. He then relays his whereabouts, as much as he knows. He’s told help is on the way.
Eight Longboat Key firefighter/paramedics were in the smoke-filled fifth floor of an island high-rise condominium building Friday, Sept. 11, on their hands and knees trying to find a way out while using the fire hose as a lifeline to safety.
But replace the high-rise condominium with a playground, the smoke with Saran-wrapped facemasks and add a boom box blaring chainsaw Halloween-themed music to serve as a noisy distraction.
The firefighters were actually on the playground at Bayfront Park Recreation Center Friday morning, going through a simulated drill set up by Deputy Fire-Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi.
Brought to the park in sets of two, the firefighters had no idea where they were because they were blindfolded prior to being brought to the park. And, during the drill, their eyesight was taken away by pieces of Saran wrap that were taped to their facemasks.
All they were told by Dezzi was that they were on a search-and-rescue mission.
Their goal was to follow the fire hose that happened to twist and turn over and under the playground set, and to make sure their partner stayed close behind.
Add 90-degree heat and full head-to-toe gear, complete with breathing apparatus and axes, and the eight firefighters found themselves in a realistic setting.
Going up and through playground obstacles that also included a ride down the slide, Dezzi monitored their skills and made sure they called for help when their partner (which was actually Dezzi following them), stopped patting their leg.
“The goal is to make them disoriented and confused,” Dezzi said. “Because that’s exactly what can happen in one of these condominiums or mansions on the Key.”
Firefighters said they were pleased with the training exercise, and firefighter/paramedic Brent Kruse said the exercise was a confidence builder for him.
“It gave me a feel for what can happen in one of these condominiums,” Kruse said. “In some cases, our only way out of the building will rely on following the hose.”
Dezzi said the drill was important because, sometimes, the radios won’t work when firefighters are several floors up in a high-rise condominium.
“Communication is key … you never know what’s going to happen,” Dezzi said.
When Lt. Pete Collandra realized that his partner stopped patting his leg, he instantly yelled out, “I lost my partner!”
Collandra proceeded to make a May Day call and was told to make his way out of the building alone.
The drill was also a learning experience for Bullock, a former fire chief with more than 29 years of experience.
“It’s a good refresher course,” said Bullock, who had to wiggle his way out of a tight spot after his oxygen tank got stuck at one point.
Later, the newest member of the Fire-Rescue squad, firefighter/paramedic Curtis Griffin, laughed when he realized the partner he thought was behind him was really Dezzi.
“He had me fooled,” Griffin said.
And Griffin’s real partner, firefighter/paramedic Mike Brooks, said he became frustrated that his partner wasn’t continually patting him on the leg to let him know he was close behind.
After the drill, Brooks told Griffin he’s glad that it was Dezzi back there and not Griffin.
“All I kept thinking was, why did we hire this guy?” said Brooks, which made Griffin laugh. “My partner’s too slow and can’t keep up.”
Armed with water to hydrate after the drill, the firefighters headed back to the south-Key fire station.
Said Dezzi: “It’s a drill that we hope we never have to simulate in real life on this island. But these guys are ready if the time comes.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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