BOWIE — Blinded by smoke and surrounded by Darth Vader-like breathing noises, reporters stepped into the boots of firefighters Wednesday with the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department.
Donned in authentic fire protection gear, from the overalls to the helmet, media members followed county firefighters as they embarked on training and rescue drills at the vacant Market Place Mall in Bowie.
The training consisted of two drills, each with the same objective of entering and clearing a burning building, putting out the fire and rescuing possible victims trapped inside. The building was filled with thick, non-toxic smoke that made seeing one’s own hands nearly impossible.
Some reporters were camped inside the building with thermal imaging cameras to watch the action while others helped lay out, unravel and guide the hose toward the simulated fire.
From the heavy smoke to the mannequin weighing up to 185 pounds to portray victims, the drills simulated the most realistic conditions possible — minus the extreme heat associated with actual fires, according to Battalion 1 Chief Christian Wargo.
While some firefighters certainly take advantage of technology like thermal cameras, Wargo emphasized that the drills also help responders heighten their senses, which is what they primarily rely on when working through such conditions.
“All they’re using is their feel, their hearing and their communication with each other,” said Wargo, who is also the project manager for the Market Place training exercises.
Berman Enterprises, a Rockville real estate agency, purchased the Market Place mall property in 2013. It is scheduled to be demolished and turned into a residential shopping complex at a to-be-determined time. In the meantime, the fire department has been using the property for training for the past few months, according to Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor.
Bashoor addressed the small crowd of fire personnel and press to express the department’s appreciation to be able to use the building as a training site.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had this opportunity and we appreciate Berman Enterprises for working with us to make this facility available to use,” said Bashoor.
The department’s time at Market Place is set to expire Thursday, however there is a possibility for further use depending on how the demolition schedule is determined, according to the department spokesman Mark Brady.
Training will then move to local departments’ facilities and at the county’s fire academy in Cheltenham.