Firefighters gear up at new training centre

A CAR has caught fire in a basement garage and a mechanic lies unconscious next to the flaming vehicle.

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  • Heat is on for fire crews
    Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews
  • Heat is on for fire crews

There's only one entrance to the blazing building and it is blocked by acrid smoke and intense heat.

The watch commander barks orders to a waiting crew who are poised to enter the building.

Fortunately, the vivid scene is part of a training exercise at Strathclyde Fire & Rescue's new Uaill Training Centre (Uaill is Gaelic for "pride") on the outskirts of Glasgow.

The state-of-the-art Uaill, which officially opens today, brings firefighters scenarios they will face on the job: from multi-storey flat fires, chemical plants, car crashes and a church fire.

And this week I was invited to join recruits at the Cambuslang-based centre to find out what new firefighters go through.

After a safety briefing I'm fitted up with my fire kit – trousers, tunic, hood, gloves, helmet and boots – though size 2 firefighter's boots prove difficult to find.

We're then given breathing apparatus kits, something I've been dreading.

BA kits are a vital part of a firefighter's kit and must be fitted tight around the sides of the face. To make that happen, my trainer Ross Hamilton, has to switch off my air supply until the mask collapses onto my face.

I'm claustrophobic, so the few seconds it takes until the air comes back on are pretty tense.

But that's nothing compared to what we face next.

To make the exercise as realistic as possible, trainees are not told details of what they'll be doing.

We get into a fire engine and drive round the 30-acre site to a garage - and there's reports of a casualty inside.

Watch Commander Paul Douglas shouts for us to get our BA kit on as we're going to be heading into the burning building.

We reel out the hose and run to the side of the building where black smoke billows from an open door.

Once inside it's pitch black and fiercely hot – training buildings can heat up to 900C depending on the type of smoke used – and we have two flights of stairs to negotiate.

My team are shown how to safely use the stairs by walking backwards, clearing each step with one foot and counting each stair as you go, all while carrying a hose.

Once the stairs have been tackled we crawl on our knees through smoke to a room where a car is on fire and a body lies on the floor.

While one trainee deals with the blazing car I am tasked with helping carry the body – a sand-filled dummy – back up the pitch black stairs and outside.

The dummy weighs the same as a man, there's smoke everywhere, it's baking hot and I can't see a thing.

It really hits home what a difficult job firefighters do, day in and day out.

By the end of the exercise I'm exhausted but the training staff have more in store and take us to a house fire.

A bedroom is alight and I am tasked with crawling into the burning room with a hose to put out the flames.

The fire is completely controlled but when it fire flashes over my head it's hard to remember I'm not in danger.

Trainee firefighter, Ian Kennedy, of Ayr, said trainees are helped through the more nerve-racking elements of the job by the strong team spirit.

He's in week 10 of the 14-week course.

Ian, 29, said: "The training has been invaluable and a lot more in-depth and realistic than I had expected.

"There's no room for nerves and everyone supports each other."

With daily tasks such as these Uaill can have as many as 15 fire crews training at once.

Train carriages, a section of motorway and water rescue area and a range of buildings in a mock village are also on the £42million site.

Firefighters coming through Uaill have access to some of the most advanced facilities in the world, meaning communities in Scotland will be better protected.

catriona.stewart@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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