What Makes Ronnie Roll: Our Fierce Firefighters

4-15-2016 5-16-18 PMRecently the Alabama Fire College training trailer was at Leak City, and in the pouring rain, the Mayor, Holly Hollman, acting Athens Fire Chief Brian Thornton, AFD Driver Ryan Kiser, and some other members of our “fierce fire-fighting force” congregated around and in the soot-lined trailer. Mayor Marks had wanted me to see some of what our FD guys go through to learn to protect us well.
I was the only one who had never been in it, and got a personal tour. “Don’t touch anything,” Ryan said, not that I could break anything, but if I had, I would have emerged looking like a chimneysweep. The trailer is two-story, and has rooms that can simulate a kitchen fire, a second floor fire, and the most dangerous, a basement fire. “It can get up to 800 degrees in here,” he said. He showed me how high the flames could shoot, and explained that the reason a basement fire is the most dangerous is because there is only one way in or out.

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Back under the cover of the breezeway, and out of the rain, I learned even more from Brian Thornton. “Firefighting has become a science, and things have changed greatly since the ‘70s. When I got started, we would go practice on a condemned house, but those days are over,” he said. “This way, we can better protect our firefighters while they are in training. Back in the day, some guys lost their lives during the training process,” he added. There are new guidelines for live fire training, with more built-in safety measures. With the use of the controlled fires started in the trailer, they can kill the flames quickly, with a dead man switch, if need be.

4-15-2016 5-16-47 PM“Things have also changed a lot in the last 5 years because of the way houses are being constructed now, which is also very different from the ‘70s,” he said. I replied, “How so?” “Fires are hotter and faster. It used to be that a house could flash (become engulfed) in 5 minutes. Now it only takes a minute.” He explained that this has to do with the combination of more metals and plastics used, “and they (houses) are just lighter.” The idea is akin to the flash caused by tinder when you are building a campfire. Its purpose is to flame up quickly, with the purpose of igniting larger pieces of wood.

Ryan is the one who operates the trailer, and he travels all over Alabama with it when the need for training arises. He has been fighting fires since 2001, and has been a part of our force here in Athens for five years. He is what is known as a “Grade 8 Driver,” which in and of itself is a dangerous job, getting a fire service vehicle through traffic and to the fire quickly without causing an accident in the process. He also operates the pump and aerial, and knows everything about every aspect of what comes out of a fire hose.

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As a side note, more than 26,000 students have graduated from Alabama Fire College, and they have come from 48 states as well as 6 foreign countries. Our mayor is understandably proud of the Athens Fire Department and the positive impact they are having in the U.S. and abroad. “As we have talked about many times,” he said, “public safety is the number one concern for any city, and any mayor. We want our firefighters to know how much we appreciate them.” It was time again for us to go back out into the rain, and “roll” on to what was next in our day, but not before he reminded me that there will be a dinner on June 3rd to honor “our fierce firefighters.” For more information, go to the Together We Stand Facebook page.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner