A-“maze”-ing training is all about saving lives
When you are in a building filling up with smoke, it quickly becomes difficult to see anything. Not only can’t you see where you are headed, neither can first responders trying to get to you. That’s why training with airpacks in limited to zero visibility situations is so important.
To hone those search and rescue skills, Spring firefighters have a unique training tool called the “Draeger Maze.”
Constructed from a tubular steel framework, the modular maze has wooden floor panels and wire mesh sides that create 30 inch by 30 inch squares. Those squares simulate small spaces and are constantly reconfigured so firefighters have to be prepared to find their way out of any situation. Tubes and doorways are added into the squares that firefighters will have to fit through in full gear.
But, the Draeger maze is more than just a physical challenge. “It’s a mind game and there is only one way out – to finish,” said Spring firefighter Kevin Price. “And, finishing builds confidence.”
In the maze passageways, numerous obstacles are added to create stress and challenges to maneuverability. “It’s supposed to simulate the worst case scenario,” added Price. “The cool part of the maze is that we have plenty of spare parts that we can use to reconfigure the entire maze in about an hour.”
“That way no firefighter can memorize the path or think they can predict what’s next,” said Spring Fire Training Captain Greg Monroe. “We can change the panels and obstacles inside to create a fully custom course each time.”
There are many emergency access options. Side panels of the maze can be removed in an emergency and because they are made of wire mesh, trainers can watch and evaluate how the firefighters handle the obstacles.
“Our firefighters utilize this training to become completely familiar with their gear — its advantages and disadvantages — while working in confined and limited spaces,” added Monroe. “Maze drills help them navigate many different obstacles while making the most of their gear’s protections.”
Firefighters go through the maze in complete blackout conditions with their mask covered or hood turned around. “It’s so important that firefighters maintain control of their air pack,” said Price. “Proper air pack use is a required firefighter skill and like all skills requires practice.”
“From air packs to communications skills, there are many ways the maze can help them improve their skills,” added Monroe. “It helps them increase their personal confidence to perform a search and rescue when there is zero visibility in a structure fire.”
Spring Fire’s maze is on the second floor of Station 70. “Having it indoors means our crews can train in it year-round,” added Monroe.
Spring firefighters like the maze because it helps them stay current on their training needs. “You can lose skills you don’t practice,” added Price. “While firefighters are required to have so many training hours a year, here at Spring we do so much more.”
Photos by firefighters Aaron Chaplin and Kevin Price.