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Fighting fire with fire

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Firefighters with Midway Fire and Rescue spent all of last week battling flames and smoke, but it was only a drill.

The department completed its annual National Fire Protection Association training last week, hoping to improve firefighters’ skills and lower the department’s ISO rating, which means lower home insurance rates for those who live in Midway’s fire district.

“Live burn training” exercises involve setting fires in special trailers and calling firefighters in to put their skills and gear to the test under realistic conditions.

“We’re putting techniques we’ve learned over months of training to use in an actual fire, so when we get a real call, our skills are honed and sharpened,” said Bob Beebe, the Midway spokesman. “Having done this, we’ll be able to get in a lot quicker, put the fire out a lot quicker and save on water damage.”

The training could also help Midway achieve a lower ISO rating when that information is updated later this year. The department’s current rating is 4/9.

“Of course our ultimate goal is a 1, but that takes a lot of time and there are about a million variables,” Beebe said. “Training is just a little piece of a big pie.”

Firefighters are training this week and next week, as well, but these exercises will help participants qualify for a new Technical Rescue Team being formed by the county.

The team will provide aid during unusual rescue situations beyond the capabilities of an average fire department response, such as high angle rescues or excavation.

Training this week centers on performing rescues in confined spaces, such as a manhole or well. Next week, firefighters will focus on excavation rescues, which might be required during a trench or tunnel collapse.

The Technical Rescue Team is expected to be up and running by Feb. 1.

In addition to training exercises, Midway responded to two fires in the Pawleys Island area over the holidays.

An automatic residential fire sprinkler system saved an apartment building that caught fire Dec. 23, said fire marshal Todd Blomdahl.

The fire, at 649 Algonquin Dr., started in the kitchen of apartment D around noon.

According to information from Midway, residents were cooking when a pot of cooking oil ignited and extended to a microwave nearby.

The residential sprinkler head in the kitchen activated and extinguished the fire before firefighters arrived.

Units from Midway arrived on the scene to find light smoke coming from the apartment. They turned off the water, and fire and water damage was kept to a minimum.

If there had not been a fire sprinkler system in the building, the apartment and neighboring units could have suffered considerable losses and firefighters’ and residents’ lives would have been in danger, Blomdahl said.

A blaze that started Dec. 30 in an abandoned mobile home at the corner of Highway 17 and Smalls Loop is still under investigation, Beebe said.

The fire was called in at around 8:30 p.m. and was fully involved when firefighters arrived. The home was destroyed.

Beebe said Waccamaw Neck has been lucky there have been no space heater-related fires despite last month’s cold temperatures.

“There have been some up in Horry County, but our area is pretty good about that,” he said.

Folks are reminded to keep heaters away from drapes, bedding, paneling and other combustibles to reduce fire risk. Heaters should have at least 3 feet of clearance, Beebe said.

Gas and kerosene heaters should never be refueled indoors or while they’re lit. If the heater is hot, fumes from the fuel can ignite.

Using the wrong kind of fuel in a space heater can also cause fire.

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