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Dodgeball helps N.H. junior firefighters become comfortable with SCBA

A friendly game of dodgeball allows Plaistow junior firefighters to learn about managing their air supply


Plaistow junior firefighters participate in a game of dodgeball to learn about SCBA air management.

Plaistow, N.H. Junior Firefighters/Facebook

By Angelina Berube
The Eagle-Tribune

PLAISTOW, N.H. — Outfitted in 50 pounds of firefighting gear and only 45 minutes of air available from an air pack and cylinder weighing 30 more pounds, Plaistow junior firefighters learned that dodgeball may not only be a physical game, but also a mental one.

On April 7, the juniors used the game as a training exercise at Timberlane Regional High School to teach them how to control their breathing when their self-contained breathing tanks get low on air.

“It was about knowing everything would be OK,” Plaistow junior firefighter Ally Galvin said.

A dozen teenagers participated in the game as part of the Plaistow Junior Firefighters program which offers high-school-aged kids an interactive class on firefighting and EMS.

Lt. Derek Travers started the program in 2022 which has seen young people from Plaistow, Atkinson, Salem, New Hampshire, Haverhill and the Timberlane Regional School District take the class.

Travers said they used dodgeball as a way to mimic a physical working environment and how to manage low air supply when firefighters find themselves in a position where they need to be rescued or are waiting for help to arrive.

The self-containing breathing apparatus, made up of an air pack and and cylinder, holds 45 minutes of compressed, breathable air. But in strenuous working conditions like fighting fires, the average firefighter uses the air supply up in about 25 minutes. When there is 5% left in the cylinder, a vibe alert goes off to inform its wearer.

A firefighter can make that 5% last more than an hour based on breathing control in a static state which can make the difference if a firefighter finds himself or herself injured on the job.

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Galvin, a Plaistow resident and Timberlane Regional High School senior, said she approached Travers about an air management drill to help her with her own nerves about running out of air in a dire situation.

Galvin, 17, said she felt a drill would get herself and fellow junior firefighters more comfortable and relieve any stress or anxiety about breathing.

The juniors had to work, or play dodgeball, in full gear until their breathing device alerted them they were low on air.

Then, they called for mayday and laid on the floor until the compressed air pack ran out before removing their masks.

The students were monitored by Travers, Danville Deputy Chief Robert Sharpe and firefighter Chris Nesbitt from Hampton Falls .

Galvin lasted the longest out of the junior firefighters at an hour and 47 minutes on the compressed air device. She said she laid on the ground for about an hour and 15 minutes.

For her, she said it helped her realize it was just an alert going off and not something to panic over.

“It was more of a mental block for me to get over,” Galvin said. “For a lot of us, it was getting used to the alert going off and not being terrified thinking the mask needed to come off.”

Sixteen-year-old Allora Delaney followed, conserving air for one hour and 42 minutes. More than half of the junior firefighter lasted for over an hour.

The Plaistow native is in her second year of the program and said she wants to attend Lakes Region Community College to earn an associate’s degree in fire science in a few years to one day be a part of a firehouse. Galvin and a few other junior firefighters will go to Lakes Region in May.

Delaney echoed Galvin’s concerns about managing air and saw the dodgeball game as a fun learning tool to overcome anxious thoughts on the matter.

“It made me worry a little less,” Delaney said. " It showed how much time you really have if something was to go completely wrong and needed help.”

Delaney, who’s developed a close bond with Galvin in the program, said the juniors previously performed search and rescue training and recalled her friend worried about running out of air.

She reassure Galvin then she was breathing real air and was there again for her that she could manage her air in this training.

“And then she beat me in time,” Delaney said with a laugh.

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