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Lawton Firefighters Use Abandoned Home to Train

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LAWTON Okla_ Dozens of Lawton firefighters stormed into an abandoned home Tuesday in search of one of their own: an injured firefighter. Fortunately, this was only a training exercise, and no one was really hurt.

They used a vacant house in north Lawton, so they could practice inside an unfamiliar environment. They were also blindfolded, so they had to rely only on their sense of touch and sound to lead them to the firefighter and out to safety.

The firefighters were in full gear and for those who have radio scanners at home, you may have heard a firefighter screaming mayday calling for help. It was an eerie call that firefighters hope they never get while inside a burning home.

Lawton Fire Department Lieutenant Alan Sweetin said it's not often that a firefighter finds himself on the other side, in need of help.

"We're just doing it as practice," Sweetin said. "When you hear your firefighter in there screaming over the radio with a distress call, he calls out a mayday, you start to feel for him. He's one of my brothers. Everyone wants to go in, find him, and save him."

While there was no fire or blinding smoke inside the training home, the firefighters were blindfolded and couldn't see.

"The big misconception is when you see a fire on TV in a movie, they can see inside," Sweetin said. "Once we enter a structure in a fire, there is zero visibility. So, everything is done by feel and by sound."

Sweetin said none of these guys have been in this home before and were unaware of the obstacles that lied before them. He said that's exactly what they hope this training will simulate.

"When you're in a fire, a lot of times, things collapse," Sweetin said. "That stuff is burning. Structural integrity is lost in the house. The roof will cave in. So, there are many hazards that you're not able to see while you're in there that you end up facing."

While these guys learn that time is everything, Sweetin said the hardest thing to learn is when to pull back and slow down, even if one of their guys is still inside.

"You can't go at it with that approach, because everybody can't go in," Sweetin said. "The outcome of that is you're going to end up with three or four victims instead of one."

Sweetin said one thing their guys are learning is how to handle a metal roof. They say they're growing in popularity and present a number of challenges to firefighters. They say the slippery metal is hard to get a good foothold on, and they have to use different tools to cut into it. Because of that, sheets of metal will be laid on Tuesday's house, so firefighters can figure out how to tackle it efficiently and safely.

Sweetin said Tuesday's home is scheduled for demolition and is owned by a retired firefighter. When he has a home that is about to be demolished, he invites firefighters to train there.

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