Firefighters plan weekend training


A Maryland firefighters' group will practice slicing open metal deck roofs, sawing through doors, crawling under clouds of smoke and other training exercises tomorrow and Sunday at a 16,000-square-foot Columbia warehouse.

This weekend's drills are unusual because the warehouse, on the 9500 block of Berger Road, is much larger than the single-family homes typically used in hands-on firefighter training. On this occasion, the exercises will focus on opening a roof, forcing entry into a building, searching in large confined areas and rescuing firefighters in trouble.

"We want to train in the most realistic environment," said Jay Blake, a Gaithersburg firefighter and president of Central Maryland FOOLS, the nonprofit firefighter group organizing the weekend drills. (The abbreviation stands for the Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society, a term referring to those who wear firefighter helmets.) "We want to train because our life depends on that."

About 50 firefighters from eight fire departments in Howard, Harford and Prince George's counties will participate. Instructors from fire departments in New York City, Washington and Montgomery County will monitor the drills.

Blake said FOOLS did not seek a permit to set the building ablaze to avoid layers of state and county bureaucracy that would have been required to obtain a burn permit. He said instructors will use smoke machines that reduce visibility as in a real fire. "You won't be able to see your hand in front of your face," he said.

The warehouse is scheduled to be demolished next month, said Michael Meisel of Meisel Capital Partners, the company that owns the property. The lot is to be used for a 50,000- square-foot office condominium. Central Maryland FOOLS had asked to use the warehouse for training.

"It doesn't harm us and it's our way to give back to the community," Meisel said.

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