3 Kingston firemen hurt as drill gets out of control

Princeton Packet
20 N0vember, 1987

3 Kingston firemen hurt as drill gets out of control

By Mario Constantino
The Packet Group

 SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Fire doesn’t know the difference between a drill and the real thing.

That is what three Kingston firefighters learned Monday when they were hurt, though not seriously, in a firefighting drill conducted by the Kingston and Princeton Borough fire departments.

The three-hour drill took place in an abandoned house off Route 1, just north of Raymond Road. The departments received permission from the owner to use the site, according to John Luck, chief of the Kingston department. 

“It’s the best way to train firefighters,” he noted. “We created what you would encounter in a normal bedroom fire.”

However, he conceded, “As much as you try and plan for safety, sometimes these things just happen. It was totally unexpected. Under normal fire circumstances, (the injuries) would be considered minor.”

The three injured firefighters, whose names were not given, were transported by the Kingston First Aid Squad to The Medical Center at Princeton.

One man was kept overnight for Observation after receiving bums on his face. One firefighter who received a burn on his wrist and another who suffered smoke inhalation were treated and released, Mr. Luck said.

All went well when the drill began about 7:15 p.m. The abandoned house had been checked beforehand for structural safety. 

“We try to cover all the safety angles,” the chief said.

Smoke bombs were used to create smoke inside the house and fires were started in 55-gallon drums that were placed inside.

“It was to give them the feel of smoke and heat,” Mr. Luck said.

Three pumper trucks and a service truck were brought in by Kingston while Princeton Borough arrived later with its three pumpers and a ladder truck.

In addition to extinguishing the fire, the 30 firefighters present also practiced search and rescue techniques, like forcible entry, and ventilation techniques.

Ladders were placed at the windows for ready escape.

The problem occurred after the fire was started, Mr. Luck explained.

“After they’d set the fire, it started to get a little bit too hot upstairs,” he said.

A hoseline was used to “cool down” one room but in the process a “back draft” was created in an adjoining room that fed more oxygen to the fire and caused the flames and smoke to escalate.

Because of the heavy smoke and flames, the firefighter in the room went to the window to escape. He was assisted by another firefighter outside on a ladder who, in reaching through the smoke for his cohort, accidentally pulled his face mask off, which resulted in the facial bums. Mr. Luck explained that although all the firefighters were, wearing full protective gear, the fireman on the ladder burned his wrist when it was accidentally exposed and made contact with the other fireman’s metal air tank, which was hot from the flames.

Monday’s accident marked the first time a Kingston firefighter was burned in a drill.

“We’ve never had any kind of problem,” Mr. Luck said, other than the usual bruises, strains and scratches that come with such activity. No one had ever been sent to the hospital before. 

“This was the most serious,” he said.

Despite Monday’s woes, the Kingston Fire Department is returning to the scene this Saturday along with the Monmouth Junction and Kendall Park fire departments for another drill. Plainsboro also will participate.

Again, like on Monday, there will be a certain amount of risk involved, according to Mr. Luck, but le emphasized, “It’s really as controlled as you get when you’re dealing with something as unpredictable, as fire.”


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