Heat rises from melted carpet that only seconds ago was engulfed in flames. Shattered glass crunches under heavy boots. Vision is obscured by the wall of white smoke that hangs thick in the air from the waist up, and breathing is only possible thanks to a 30 pound pack and a tank of oxygen.
It's just another day of training for the Nevada Fire Department.
The department conducted three training scenarios on a controlled fire of a small home on 10th Street Wednesday. Training was focused on the use of ultra high pressure, or UHP, fire suppression.
The UHP unit, which fire Capt. Dave Donnelly described as “a pressure washer on steroids,” is designed to use less water, control fires more rapidly and minimize damage to the building. Mounted on a pickup truck rather than a fire engine, the system is also more versatile and more cost effective for the department.
“It gets to the fire better and it doesn't demolish as much property this way in a much smaller package,” Donnelly said.
In addition to the UHP unit owned by the Nevada Fire Department, a demo unit from the equipment dealer and the UHP truck from the Bondurant Fire Department were on site for the training.
After a quick briefing from Fire Chief Ray Reynolds and a walkthrough of the building, firefighters donned the rest of their 70 pounds of gear to begin the first exercise, a small fire in the southwest corner of the building.
They were just getting warmed up. The first blaze was put out through a front window in less than a minute.
Training maneuvers increased in intensity as the afternoon went on. Each fire was started in a strategic place in the home to simulate real life conditions.
Each scenario provided different techniques to test the success of the UHP suppression. One tactic unique to UHP is cutting holes through the side of the house to reach the fire directly with the smaller hose. Firefighters were instructed by Donnelly to make the opening beneath a window.
“You don't lose any integrity or strength that way,” Donnelly said, because there are beams above and to the sides of that area.
Firefighters walked through the building immediately after the fire was out to determine the success of the exercise. Stripes from the UHP stream were visible on the ceiling and walls of the building, cutting through the burn marks and soot.
The system uses a fifth of the water used in conventional fire control. Combined with over 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, the Nevada fire team knocked down 15 foot flames with just 8 gallons of water.
To push the limits further, part of the third and final training scenario was to watch the house burn “until we don't think we can save it,” before going in with the hose, Reynolds said.
Standing idly as the blaze bellowed from all openings of the home, firefighters waited for a signal from Reynolds. The 416 square-foot home was fully consumed by flames when they attacked it with the UHP.
The fire was out in 1 minute and 20 seconds, using 20 gallons of water. With conventional methods, the same fire would have taken hundreds of gallons of water to extinguish.
According to Reynolds, the technology is on the cutting edge of firefighting and is beginning to gain momentum among departments, including his own.
“You're going to see some stuff here today, like Dave said, that we've never done and we want to try,” he told his team.
When training scenarios were completed, the department still had one task left: burn the house down.
Now, the UHP line was used for control and cooling rather than to extinguish. Firefighters sprayed down the neighboring homes to prevent heat damage. Bells rang through the air as oxygen tanks reached empty after nearly 4 hours of training.
A successful day, according to Reynolds. Standing in front of the inferno, he was satisfied with the outcome of the final training scenario.
“If you look at this house as it sits today, you could probably do that same attack right now with 20 gallons of water,” Reynolds said.
Editor's note: Nevada Journal reporter Katie Mauch suited up in firefighter gear to participate in the training exercise Wednesday evening.