Standing bodies of water pose real threats to firefighters, who respond to almost all of their calls wearing up to 67 pounds of protective gear.
So what happens if one of those fully-clad firefighters accidentally steps into a backyard swimming pool while fighting a house fire?
"When firefighters are around water, ignorance tells them that if they fell in with turnout gear on, they will drown," said Batt. Chief Danny Kuhlmann, a Martinez Fire Department training officer. "With the weight of the gear and the fear you are going to drown, you will drown."
Kuhlmann organized a training session held Thursday at the Girl Scouts' Camp Tanglewood swimming pool to teach firefighters how to handle that difficult and often frightening situation. The drown-proofing classes have been offered on a volunteer basis at least once a year for the past three years.
Firefighters have the potential to end up in water while responding to calls during floods, at waterfront buildings like those on the Savannah River, homes with spas or swimming pools and flooded trenches, elevator shafts and basements, Kuhlmann said.
"When you are putting water on a fire, which can be up to thousands of gallons per second, the water has to go somewhere, and the water level can rise very, very fast," he said while warning his men to watch out for flooded basements and elevator shafts.
Martinez Fire Department Capt. Mike Chambers (left) watches firefighter Leo Zahare as he practices drown-proofing techniques at Camp Tanglewood.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
In recent years, the department has encountered a water threat twice while fighting residential fires. One firefighter fell into a backyard swimming pool and another accidentally stepped into a hot tub, Kuhlmann said.
On Thursday, more than 30 Martinez firefighters gathered around the pool taking turns practicing drown-proofing techniques in the water and simulating a real-life drowning situation. That meant firefighters had to get into the water in full gear to practice flotation and removing equipment while submerged.
"It is not as easy as everyone thinks it is. It is tiring more than anything else," said Mike Thorn, a firefighter who demonstrated the slow gear removal techniques for new volunteers.
They also learned several air-trapping and bobbing techniques.
Because moving around can waste valuable air and energy, the key is to trick your mind into relaxing, which keeps respiration and heart rates low, Kuhlmann said.
"If you move, you are losing air," he said his soon-to-be soggy students. "You have to fight the urge to struggle, because that is what is going to cause you to drown. You have to stop, train, think and act. You have got to have an action plan to get out of this."
Two by two, the firefighters geared up and jumped into the deep end. They had to use the trapped air in their helmets, jackets and boots to keep them afloat while keeping as submerged and still as possible. When the self-contained breathing apparatus was the only gear left, the firefighter could rip it off and swim to shore.
"I enjoyed it," said Leo Zahare, a first-year volunteer. "It did get freaky at first when you get the mask submerged for the first time."
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