Mayor douses new fire Johnson learns how to battle blazes at training facility

August 25, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Mayor Dean L. Johnson came under fire from the Annapolis Fire Department yesterday.

He faced it head-on, aimed a hose at the blaze and swoosh -- a stream of water smothered the flames dancing above his head and licking at his boots.

Not a typical day for the mayor of Annapolis, but an enlightening one as Johnson and Alderman Joseph Sachs learned a lesson in putting out blazes yesterday morning from the people who do it best in the city. The political-feet-to-the-fire exercise was the first of its kind the department has held at the county Fire Training Academy.

"I've never been that close to a fire, ever. This is one of the fun parts of my job. It's like being a kid all over again," said the usually reserved Johnson as he pulled off a helmet and oxygen mask.

"Wow. Thank God there are people who like to do this and are trained to do this," said Sachs, a Ward 4 Republican, as sweat ran down his face. "I couldn't imagine doing this for a living."

Interest in fire fighting techniques has grown since the city lost a couple of historic buildings to fires in December and March. Fire suppression experts, city officials and preservationists have joined forces through seminars and citizens' committees to find better ways to protect the older structures that define Annapolis.

Yesterday, about three weeks of fire suppression classes -- the amount of time recruits spend in training before tackling a burning building in a 21-week course -- were crammed into four hours for the novices, which might explain the need for some reassurance. "Don't worry, we are very capable of making sure ** you come out uninjured," said Lt. Rick Butler, one of the instructors. "We will not let anything happen to you."

As firefighters preheated rooms in a two-story smoke-singed building at the academy, Johnson and Sachs began putting on 60 pounds of equipment. Steel-toed rubber boots, pants, red suspenders, carbon dioxide and vapor barrier jacket, oxygen mask, helmet and oxygen tank.

Firefighters put all of that on in 4 1/2 minutes. The politicians needed about 20 minutes. The 93-degree heat made it feel hotter than the usual 120 degrees inside the suits.

Johnson learned about the department's new rescue truck, which can refill air tanks on site; about the cost of a fire suit (about $1,000); the longevity of such equipment (about five years); and the temperature of a burning ceiling (about 1,300 degrees).

"We hope to do this with the other aldermen," Johnson said. "I think when it's time to adjust budgets for equipment, it'll be good for everybody to understand how truly complex all of this is. It's not just about pouring water on fire."

"We just wanted everyone to have a better understanding of what we do," said Dan Grimes, president of the Professional Firefighters Union, who set up the class. "To let them see it from our point of view."

"Close your eyes," screamed firefighter Aaron Boston of the Annapolis department over the crackle of the flames. "That's what we see when we're in here. Nothing. We just hear the fire. Everybody's running out and we're running in."

Outside the room, waves of heat washed over Johnson and Sachs. Flames began moving from a corner toward an open door. Not wasting any time, the politicians-turned-tough guys grabbed a 75-pound hose and aimed. Short blasts of water hit the ceiling, the walls and the fire.

With each dousing the flames sank lower, finally leaving only smoldering embers, soot and smoke.

"They did good," said Lt. Scott Baer, an instructor. "If they're not dead, they're doing pretty good, especially not being used to all that heat. And especially because those guys are not in shape anymore."

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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