Equipment heats up fire training

HOLLIDAYSBURG — It was not like fighting a real fire, or even like an immersive virtual reality experience.

But the BullEx fire extinguisher training simulator parked at the end of a hallway last week at Garvey Manor was what the nursing home wanted — so much so that Garvey’s emergency preparedness coordinator Debby Thurheimer was hoping the home could keep the equipment for a month, twice as long as the prescribed limit.

The BullEx simulator became a subject of discussion at a recent meeting of the Local Emergency Management Committee, of which Thurheimer is a member, when she told the others that it is available to share among health care facilities in the area, having been obtained recently through a grant obtained by the South-Central Mountains Regional Task Force, an eight-county organization that helps with planning, mitigation, response and recovery in connection with various hazards.

Until this year, to comply with regulations that govern the training of nursing home care workers, Garvey has conducted live fire training, with real flames fed by diesel fuel and real extinguishers, on a loading dock at the facility.

Those live fires were “very intense,” Thurheimer said.

They’re not necessary now, as the simulator provides a substitute experience that, while lacking the feel of heat and the surge of adrenaline common with actual fire, is nevertheless “cleaner,” ultimately less expensive and more environmentally acceptable, according to Thurheimer and Garvey maintenance assistant Ken Doyle.

The $5,000 Bull-Ex equipment consists of a TV screen that shows an image of dancing flames, an extinguisher that projects a laser beam the user directs to the base of the flames and electronic software that causes the flames to behave as real fire would if someone were handling a real extinguisher in the same way.

The equipment allows for adjustments for the type of fires and the type of extinguisher, so the flames disappear only if the proper type of extinguisher is used properly, according to an online company video.

The acronym PASS — Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep — details the correct procedure, Thurheimer indicated.

The equipment includes a pole on which there is a pull alarm like those found on walls of commercial buildings, a phone on which users make simulated calls to a 911 center and on which they simulate a public address announcement within the building alerting all the occupants to the emergency.

While an extinguisher can be used to put out a small fire, it also can be used to clear a path through a larger fire through which staffers and residents can evacuate to safety, according to Doyle, a member of the Geeseytown Community Fire Company and a 25-year veteran of the fire service.

At Garvey, the simulation experience enabled by the equipment is part of a larger fire-emergency context described by the acronym RACE — Rescue, Alarm, Confine, Extin­guish/Evacuate, according to Thurheimer.

“(The apparatus) is a tool in the toolbox” for fire safety, Doyle said.

Fire safeguards are extensive at Garvey.

They include monthly fire drills involving all employees, training videos, encouragement of employees to familiarize themselves constantly with alternate ways to get out, sprinklers all over; heat, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire alarm stations, extinguishers, automatic notifications made to a monitoring company which calls 911 when any of the devices in the buildings are triggered and plastic-bottomed evacuation sleds that enable workers to move even large individuals over carpet and down stairs, according to Thurheimer and Doyle.

“The ultimate goal is to make every resident as safe as we can,” Doyle said.