Ky. firefighters practice mayday rescues

By Dariush Shafa
The Messenger-Inquirer

OWENSBORO, Ky. — Owensboro firefighters "rescued" one of their own Tuesday from the basement of the Executive Inn Rivermont, finding Battalion Chief David McCrady after he called "mayday" over his radio — only to have McCrady go "missing" again as part of a training exercise.

Firefighters from Owensboro and Daviess County are using the former hotel this week and next, taking advantage of the numerous features of the massive structure for training, Owensboro Battalion Chief Steve Leonard said.

Firefighters took turns using flashlights, masks, air-packs and search ropes to prevent the searchers from also getting lost.

Finding a person in the basement of a place that's been built, rebuilt, remodeled and renovated numerous times isn't easy, they said.

"When you go to a place as large as and as cut up as an Executive Inn, it's scary," McCrady said. "You can't see the way the building is built, the way it holds smoke."

The Owensboro Fire Department has not had a firefighter call "mayday" in a real situation in at least 10 years, firefighter Chris Belcher said. The closest they came was when firefighters were rescuing people during a fire at the Executive Inn in 2006 and became disoriented by smoke, but they were able to break a window and get to safety.

That's all the more reason to train for these situations, McCrady said. "We want to do everything we can to take care of the public, but we've got to take care of ourselves in order to do that," McCrady said.

"It mimics almost any type of construction we would find throughout the country," Leonard said.

The Executive Inn, in some places, is like any other hotel or motel in the city. Its restaurant or bar areas are similar to other entertainment venues throughout Owensboro.

And the numerous rooms, corridors and offices in the basement make it seem like any of a handful of major industrial businesses around Owensboro, McCrady said.

The building's physical size and height also allow training time for the department's ladder trucks and aerial-extension firefighting apparatus.

"Just by virtue of the size of the structure, it gives us the opportunity to practice firefighting procedures on a larger scale," Leonard said.

Because the old hotel is slated for demolition, firefighters can also use some of their more destructive techniques. Smashing windows with axes, breaking down doors with Halligan tools and busting through walls with sledgehammers are all fair game.

"Actually putting hands on is an opportunity that's like none other," Leonard said. "They enjoy the opportunity to train in a live situation, where they can hone their skills."

Copyright 2009 Messenger-Inquirer

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