Old Papa Gino's building gives firefighters realistic training scenario

Jun 6, 2019

The moment firefighters Kalen Green and Josh Cabral entered the smoke-filled Papa Gino’s on Dartmouth Street, their sense of vision diminished.

Because the building was filled with smoke and pitch black, the two, carrying their fire hose, crawled on hands and knees throughout the labyrinth-like building.

They found the “fire” in a corner, and opened up the hose to douse it before radioing in to command that the fire had been knocked down.

It wasn’t a real fire — another firefighter told them where the fire was, and when it was deemed “out.” And the building wasn’t filled with smoke, rather a non-toxic chemical which closely mimicked the visual sensation of smoke.

It was part of a special training day for Dartmouth Fire District No. 1 on June 5. While trainings are held weekly, it is quite rare for the department to secure a building to test their skills in.

“It’s not often, but people have no problem with it and realize the added value to the fire department,” Deputy Chief Jake Bettencourt said.

Bettencourt said the department had reached out to the owners of the vacant pizza shop, which had closed suddenly last year, and asked to use it for training. The 696 Dartmouth St. property is under development, and the building will be demolished next week.

“There’s really no better simulation, outside of something that the academy has to offer,” Bettencourt said. “We can do live burns, but this is the next best thing.”

Inside the building, crews practiced two “evolutions:” Advancing the hose line — bringing the hose to the fire and quickly extinguishing it — and searching for a downed firefighter using special thermal imaging cameras.

Both can be challenging in darkness and smoke-filled environments. Green and Cabral had to deal with their hose coupling getting caught while crawling to the fire. 

“It really felt like being in a real fire,” Green said.

Firefighters also took a tour of the building’s roof to discuss tactics and venting, using regular ladders and the department’s ladder truck.

Commercial building roofs can present unique hazards, especially flat roofs — high-voltage HVAC units, roofing material, and even aftermarket modifications like mounted satellite dishes can all pose special risks.

“It’s good training,” Cabral said.