Tens of millions of gallons of fuel. One of the largest storage facilities on the East Coast and dead center in the middle of Broward County’s Port Everglades. One look at the place sends the mind racing with worst case scenarios.
WSVN — Possibilities like these. Thankfully for us, BSO firefighters have somewhere they can see it all, before they must fight it for real.
At Texas A&M University, a facility with a worldwide reputation.
Battalion Chief Kelli Allen: “This is the Disneyland of firefighting. Every kind of thing you could think of that firefighters could use to train, they’ve got at this facility.”
Including a full-fledged disaster city with collapsed buildings and train wrecks. With instructors with a combined 500 years of experience.
Firefighter: “I have 29 years right now.”
Firefighter: “Twenty-six years.”
BSO Battalion Chief Kelli Allen is one of them. Twice a year, she travels here to help train firefighters from around the globe.
Battalion Chief Kelli Allen: “I feel like it’s an honor that these people invited me to work with them.”
She’s been at Port Everglades for decades, and she brings fellow BSO firefighters here to go through five days of some of the worst experiences they can imagine, like fires on the massive tankers you may see coming into port everyday.
Firefighters watch up close as the engine room ignites, attack the fire from the hatch above with foam and feel the burn until they’re up to their necks in it, a true trial by fire, to learn how to control the uncontrollable.
Battalion Chief Kelli Allen: “To actually go down these stairs and to feel that intense heat that you feel and when you get done and you can’t touch the rail because its so hot. It really all comes to home.”
And what about those massive fuel tanks? If one isn’t perfectly sealed, you could get this: from the ground up, a line of firefighters attack, marching right into a face-to-face firefight, just close enough to attach a foam hose to the tank’s lid.
And, just when they think they’ve tamed the monster by day, by night he rears a head uglier than some firefighters may ever see in real life. Instructors let loose liquid propane gas, free to go wherever it pleases, and it always does.
Firefighter: “It burns at 3,750 degrees.”
And then the fight is on.
Dave Kartunen: “Propane tanks like this are all over South Florida, and firefighters have to be very careful to tamp down these flames to make sure the vapor doesn’t seep out because something as simple as a cigarette butt could reignite it and set it off all over again.”
Capt. Drew Pelton: “These guys have to be sure they don’t move, or they could have that fire come right underneath them.”
And each time brave firefighters have to go right at the source with only their hands, if they want to win this fight. BSO firefighters know Port Everglades is chock-full of pipelines like these that burn hot enough to melt concrete.
Capt. Drew Pelton: “That’s exactly what we’re going to come across and exactly what we’re going to find.”
Capt. Drew Pelton: “Grab that chain!”
Teamwork takes them right to the source.
Firefighter: “Hey, hey, hey, that’s all I got!”
Firefighter: “Good job, Taco!”
When you add fuel to the fire, trust and communication win out with the help of a whole lot of foam and water.
But sometimes the simulations are so real, they win the fight. Four lines of firefighters with water and foam couldn’t take down this monster. So powerful it burned the skin off their noses and reminded all of them why they’re here.
Capt. Drew Pelton: “If things are going to go bad, they’re going to go bad.”
Capt. Drew Pelton: “This gives us the hands-on you’re not going to get unless you have these kinds of fires.”
So, next time you see the port and imagine the possibilities, remember BSO’s finest trained with the best and survived the worst.
Battalion Chief Kelli Allen: “Think it would make people feel better to know the extent of training we go through.”
Capt. Drew Pelton: “You always want to try to give everyone that edge because if you don’t give them that edge, why do you want to be here?”