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Wauwatosa firefighters get a lesson at breaking through a door

Wauwatosa firefighter/paramedics Mark Robinson (left) and Kurt Trevisan use hand tools to break open a training door outside the city’s Fire Department Training Tower during an exercise Tuesday.

Wauwatosa firefighter/paramedics Mark Robinson (left) and Kurt Trevisan use hand tools to break open a training door outside the city’s Fire Department Training Tower during an exercise Tuesday. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Dec. 11, 2012

The Wauwatosa Fire Department put a new training device - a blue door - to the test Tuesday in a live fire exercise at the Public Works Yard behind the recycling center.

With smoke billowing from the tower, it uses for practice, firefighters arrived, broke open the door, charged into the building behind it and pulled out a man and an infant. The fact that the victims were a dummy and a doll didn't detract from the seriousness of the exercise.

The door, a heavy, freestanding steel structure made by Firehouse Innovations Corp., opens, closes and can be locked.

"This is unique because it's very hard to practice breaking into a door," said Fire Chief Rob Ugaste. "And we have key boxes on many of the buildings, and if somebody's there, if the door's open, if the key box is there, we don't need to break in. But some of them don't have it, and if it's an emergency and we don't have any other choice, what we want to do is get in effectively and efficiently, but do as little damage as possible."

The door is reusable, and "you can actually simulate different types of doors. They can simulate a wood door, they can simulate a steel door, they can change the way the hinges sit - things that complicate entry into buildings," Ugaste said.

Opening the door

A $7,500 donation from the GE Foundation paid for the door. GE Healthcare's presence in Wauwatosa's Milwaukee County Research Park was key, said Matt Williams, government relations leader at GE Healthecare, who attended the event with Don Bernhardt, GE's facilities manager.

"We all live here," Williams said - and by extension, are protected by the Fire Department.

For the exercise, the door was set up to simulate a wooden door, with a wooden jamb. A separate piece is used for simulating a steel door.

"The inventor … happens to be a New York firefighter. We went out there, we worked with him and trained with him, we picked the props up from him, he designed both of those - and when he heard about the generosity of GE, he actually cut us a deal on those props," said Fire Captain Dale Pekel.

Five crucial minutes

The exercise started with an actual dispatch coming out of Assistant Chief Scott Erke's radio. "Five-story fire, multiple sides … all hands working."

Fire trucks arrived, three firefighters attacked the door with an ax and a Halligan bar - a multipurpose tool like a crowbar, adz and a climbing tool all rolled into one - while two others set up a ladder to a second-floor, boarded-up window. In matter of seconds the wood chunks holding the door had given way, and the firefighters, equipped with oxygen tanks and masks, carrying hose, entered the thick, black smoke billowing out of it.

On the second floor, a firefighter on the ladder bashed in a board and entered through the window. At the same time, a ladder truck raised its ladder to a third floor balcony, ready to help if necessary.

Then a firefighter on the second floor came down the ladder holding the infant, and the other firefighter on the second floor followed him down.

Back down on the first floor, two firefighters emerged from the smoke carrying their victim, whom they walked a safe distance away and laid on the asphalt.

The whole exercise took less than five minutes.

"The theory is, if we don't have a fire out in 10 minutes, we've got a problem," Erke said. "It's growing too fast, and we get more people on."

When it was all over, the GE executives each tried their hand at breaking through the door.

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