Two buildings at Holly Land Park in Holly Hill will be demolished soon to make way for the new pickleball complex.
But, before that happens, City Manager Joe Forte offered the building to the city’s fire department for realistic live training. Holly Hill in turn welcomed the entire Daytona Beach Fire Department to join them.
More than 100 firefighters from the two cities were trained over a three-day period with roughly two engine companies every hour. In one smoke simulated building, firefighters had to go in full gear to search and rescue hidden mannequin representing an infant, child, adult and a dog.
In the second building also complete with smoke generated from a machine, firefighters had to “rescue” a 200-pound mannequin representing a downed firefighter. None of the firefighters knew who was in either building before they entered.
“It’s a great opportunity to do live fire training for folks that haven’t had the opportunity to actually be inside a structure fire and be in the environment where it is hot, it is smoky, visibility is bad, you get that little bit of stress and anxiety, and you try to learn by example exactly what needs to take place,” said Mr. Forte, a former Holly Hill fire chief.
“When it’s a real fire generally, these crews are going to be working together,” he said. “So, it is an opportunity for them to become familiar with each other’s work habits and abilities and skills. It’s been a number of years since we’ve had an opportunity to even do this kind of training with the two departments. Every firefighter in Daytona Beach and every firefighter in Holly Hill will have this opportunity to train.”
Mr. Forte added, “We probably have some of the more fit firefighters in this county. They take it seriously; they work out every day. They train, they are involved, they do what they need to do. I would put them up against anybody in this county.”
Getting two buildings to work in is rare, even for a larger city like Daytona Beach, according to Holly Hill Fire Chief Jim Bland.
“These buildings are perfect for us,” Chief Bland said. “We are not going to burn them; they are concrete block. They have decent roofs on them.”
Daytona Beach has resources Holly Hill doesn't, but, in this case, Holly Hill had the buildings.
“Between the two agencies we have enough stuff,” Chief Bland said. “We share every day. So, it worked out great. The whole city has been just phenomenal making this happen for us.”
The fire-fighter training is standard, but there's nothing usual about a fire.
“There’s a standard search that all firemen do; they go in and they go to the right and they stay on a wall so we know where they are going to go (but) we’ve got a couple of surprises in there,” Chief Bland said. “We tell them there’s been a collapse (a hole gets closed after they are inside) and they have to figure out how to get out. When they get out, they still have work to do and they come out and finish their search. This is very realistic to what we do every day. It’s not about the fastest, it’s about doing it correctly.”
Fire departments cooperating also is standard, he said. “There is cooperation throughout the county and whatever you need is just a phone call away.”
Jessica Matthews, a 14-year veteran, is one of the training officers for the Daytona Beach Fire Department. She is also Mr. Forte’s niece.
“We did a joint effort on designing each building separately, then we’ll run crews through it, to give them different experiences in each one,” Officer Matthews said. “The way these buildings are set up are like a residential structure fire if we were to have one. So, it gives us the ability to do a search with actual live rooms that have furniture in it, we have mannequins in there. It gives it a more realistic atmosphere. These buildings were a blessing when we came across them.”