The tempered glass used in hurricane windows requires more effort to break than traditional windows.
As the worst of hurricane season approaches and Hurricane Ian tracks toward landfall, the Longboat Key Fire Department took part in additional training on hurricane-resistant windows.
While the training was not scheduled specifically for Hurricane Ian, it still provided essential training to personnel ahead of the storm and its potential dangers.
Training took place over three days to allow all 33 firefighters in the department to participate in shifts to practice breaking out windows on a home on Gulf of Mexico Drive already planned for demolition.
The trick is breaking a window designed not to break.
“When we have these types of structures, we have the ability to kind of hone our craft without somebody having the misfortune of being burned out of their home,” training captain John Elwood said.
Without homes made available for use by the department, training has to take place outside of the Key as the town does not have its own training facility. If members of the department are training off the island, personnel from Manatee County or Sarasota County will help cover the area in their absence.
“The residents are never without coverage,” he said. “It just may be that a different organization is covering our area while we are absent. Having structures here on the island that are giving us the opportunity to train is beneficial not only to us, but it’s beneficial to the residents as well.”
When a building is scheduled for demolition, the fire marshal’s office is notified of the permit. From that point, Elwood said, the department may opt to reach out to the homeowner about using the space for department training. However, it is more common for the homeowner to reach out to the department about the space’s availability after seeing examples of other homes being used by the department.
The windows, which are made of tempered glass, are harder to break than typical windows as they are meant to keep the house sealed even as debris may shatter the glass layers on the interior or exterior of the home.
Firefighters were taken in shifts of two to practice breaking windows along the front of the home. Each firefighter was able to choose from an ax, sledgehammer and irons as their tools to use to break the windows.
Each firefighter suited up in their gear, which added about 50 pounds to their backs. They wore oxygen masks to avoid glass particulates from getting into their lungs.
They were instructed to first hit along the vertical sides of the windows before going along the bottom. If done in this manner, the window would be able to create a swinging motion from the top of the window like the hinge of a doggy door. Breaking the window all the way out, Elwood said, would risk creating a flow path, drawing the fire over to the window as oxygen is brought in with the breeze.
“It serves two purposes,” he told the trainees. “One, it helps me to keep a seal, so I do not call the fire towards me. The other is that it takes a lot less effort.”
The closer to the ground a firefighter is able to stay, the cooler it is, so by focusing on the sides and bottom of the window, it allows for the individual to avoid some of the heat.
Elwood reminded participants that while the training is useful for getting civilians out of burning homes, it is also important to learn as a way to escape from the situations themselves. Training in more controlled environments provides the added benefit of a lower risk of injury.
“Having these buildings donated to us is a huge benefit because we can give people realistic training at no cost,” Elwood said. “The donated building is not only meeting financial needs, but we are not having to have units leave here to go somewhere else, causing another department to have to cover the area.”
Even as firefighters are in the midst of training, if an emergency presents itself, training on the Key gives them the availability to end the training and dispatch out to the incident.
Newer members of the department were also given the opportunity to mark elements off their training checklist, such as prying open a sliding door, following the scheduled hurricane window training.
Due to the evacuation order for residents of Longboat Key, limited emergency personnel will be available to assist with emergencies out on the island.
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