Making the cut

Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter/paramedic Mike Kroll uses a chain saw to cut into the first layers of the rooftop of the vacant Gottschalks building during a recent training exercise. - Photo by Kassie Korich
Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue firefighter/paramedic Mike Kroll uses a chain saw to cut into the first layers of the rooftop of the vacant Gottschalks building during a recent training exercise.
— image credit: Photo by Kassie Korich

The screeching sounds of the circular saw rang through the air as the sharp blade sliced through the steel roofing.

The vacant former home of Gottschalks at Kitsap Mall provided a prime training opportunity for Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue as about 18 firefighters rotated through training Tuesday, strengthening their skills in cutting ventilation holes in the event of a fire.

It’s not often the fire department is presented with such an ideal training structure. Typically training atop homes and other residential buildings, this is the first time in his 12 years as a career firefighter that Capt. Frank Wilson says CKFR firefighters have been able to cut into a commercial structure like Gottschalks.

“The opportunity is immense,” he said. “This is good training. This is invaluable training to actually come up and work on a live surface.”

Firefighters utilized the rooftop just in time with remodeling of the building beginning the following day.

The first crew to train atop the building were from Station 56 in Seabeck and along with Wilson included firefighter/EMT Greg Snyder, firefighter/paramedic Mike Kroll, firefighter/paramedic Ryan Madison and volunteer firefighter Joe Stout. Led by Wilson, the crew received additional supervision and instruction from division chief Paul Stewart, CKFR’s training officer.

Firefighters began the training by first setting up an extended ladder against the building. Each carried up a tool — which included a chain saw, hose, ax and circular saw.

“The training also allows them to practice ladder operations and hoisting and carrying tools up the ladder,” Stewart said. “We also discussed fire behavior and building construction. We’re hitting all sorts of facets with this.”

First searching out and finding the safest spot on the mezzanine portion of the roof to cut into, the next step was to get rid of the top layers of tar and insulation from the roof with the chain saw. The ax was then used to extract and clear the perforated pieces of roofing. The circular saw was then used to cut the metal decking, sending bright orange sparks flying.

During an actual fire a good sized hole would be cut — about 4 feet by 8 feet, but for training purposes, and so the hole could be boarded up later for safety reasons, firefighters cut a 3-foot-by-4-foot hole.

“Roof operations are very man- power intensive,” Stewart said. “Ventilation is something we practice on a fairly regular basis.”

Explaining the importance of ventilating smoke during a fire, he spoke of the need to release that built-up smoke.

“If we don’t release the smoke it could become explosive,” he said. “We ventilate for firefighter safety.”

He explained that although commercial structure fires are rare because of the fire codes and prevention which apply to the buildings, there’s always a possibility.

“Commercial (building) fires are rare but when they do go up it’s a big dollar loss to the community,” he said.

Not only did the training provide firefighters additional practice in rooftop operations, but the metal decking provided them with another medium to work with.

A common material used in commercial structures, steel also heats up rather quickly, creating a flammable gas, according to Stewart.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to work on a metal deck roof, it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

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