A repairman fixing a basement furnace notices a problem and calls 911. The fire department arrives on scene within minutes and pulls up to see large amounts of dark smoke pouring out of the roof.
The fire, which was not even visible at the time of the call, has spread from the basement to the third floor of the multi-unit home in a matter of moments.
Some who fought this blaze, the “34 Park Street Fire,” admit to making mistakes.
In fact, there is one, Lieutenant Jay McNamara, who is actually glad he made mistakes at that fire.
That’s because the fire they battled took place in a trailer and was computer simulated.
The “sim-trailer” at the is, as Captain Don Jasmin calls it, “the place to make mistakes.” (Jasmin is also a highly respected instructor at the Fire Academy.)
Ironically, on May 1, the training tool for more than 2,000 firefighters statewide, 34/36 Park Street, , , although thankfully there were no injuries or fatalities.
This time, instead of a furnace problem, it was an alarm call to which the department responded.
The fire was electrical and it started in the ceiling between the 2nd and 3rd floors, according to the State Fire Marshal's office.
McNamara, who was one of the first firefighters on scene May 1, described the parallels between the two fires saying, “It went from a minimal amount of smoke to a visible fire within 6 minutes...the spread of the fire was basically the same in both scenarios.”
The fact that many firefighters already trained in fighting a fire at this residential building aided their response to the real-life blaze at 34/36 Park St. on May 1.
Sometimes people question the effectiveness of computer-based trainings, but McNamara attests, “Being involved in the [Officer Training] class and having the house in the simulation made me more conscientious of that building and construction.”
Captain Doug Campbell explains the benefits of firefighters, like McNamara, taking the officer training: “The information he conveyed to me was a direct result of him having used the simulator.”
Greg Bourget, a fire investigator with the SFD (who has also trained on 34 Park Street in the simulator) spoke to the building being a “perfect example of a single family [structure] converted into a multi-family home.”
“[A converted home] makes our job harder because what you think is a door isn’t always,” he said.
“The balloon-frame construction is typical for its time,” Captain James Bertram said of the building, which dates back to the late 1800s/early 1900s.
He said that the prevalence and length of lumber at that time was such that one beam would run up an entire wall, therefore allowing the fire to do the same.
“We would have realized it [the balloon frame construction], based on the fire behavior; it just would have taken a little bit longer,” McNamara said.
“We size up every situation we are involved in...the outcome would have probably been the same [but] because of the simulator it gave me an extra minute or two to be aware and convey it to my superior.”
Jasmin, expressed the good fortune of the academy that the 34/36 Park St. building owner gave permission for his colleague, Billy Miller, to take pictures of the entire house for use in the simulator.
“Because we had permission from the property owners at the time to utilize it as a training tool, it made the people on scene more cognizant of what was going on within the structure,” Jasmin said.
Stressing the importance of the 34 Park Street training Jasmin stated, “It covers hundreds of buildings within town based on the timeframe they were built.”
The actual May 1 34/36 Park Street fire demonstrated that not only does the simulator train on how to fight the fire itself, but as Jasmin says, “it lets us know when we have to leave because if we don’t it would be more catastrophic.
Because of the firefighters’ familiarity with the building, Jasmin said, “there was no loss of life or injuries.”