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December 8, 2010

‘Doomed Cavalier Apartments building makes excellent training site

News and Information

Seattle firefighters climb to the top of the Cavalier Apartments Building. Such an empty building makes an excellent training site. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Seattle firefighters climb to the top of the Cavalier Apartments Building. Such an empty building makes an excellent training site. | Photo by Mary Levin.

“Fire and police are always looking for places to do drills and training,” said Darren Branum, the Universitys fire prevention specialist and an employee of Environmental Health & Safety. “A building thats about to be torn down is perfect for them.”

Its also perfect for EH&Ss own PEAT team, of which Branum is a member. PEAT stands for Pre-entry Assessment Team, and its members are trained to enter buildings after a disaster and assess their safety.

Firefighters begin sawing a hole in the roof of the Cavalier Apartments Building. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Firefighters begin sawing a hole in the roof of the Cavalier Apartments Building. | Photo by Mary Levin.

“The Cavalier looked like an earthquake had occurred,” Branum said. “They had done asbestos abatement before we got the building so the doors and windows were gone.”

The fact that the building was to be demolished also made it possible for the team to mark doors with spray paint as they would in a real disaster.

“If youve seen Katrina pictures, youve seen xs on the front of buildings,” said Doug Gallucci, hazardous waste supervisor and leader of the PEAT team. “We use a similar marking system to show when weve entered a building and when weve finished with it.”

Ironically, since this was the first time theyd been able to use actual paint, the team learned that wielding the paint can was very difficult while wearing the protective gloves that are part of their equipment.

“Its a good example of what you can learn by having drills in as realistic conditions as possible,” Gallucci said.

Firefighters training at the soon-to-be-demolished Cavalier Apartments building finish cutting a hole in the roof with a chain saw. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Firefighters training at the soon-to-be-demolished Cavalier Apartments building finish cutting a hole in the roof with a chain saw. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Empty buildings arent the only sites of training activity, however. Branum was approached earlier by firefighters who wanted to stage a forcible entry in order to make a PowerPoint training presentation. They came to Galluccis building near the E-1 parking lot, did their training and took photos.

Branum is in regular contact with firefighters, who also take advantage of his work to get in some training for their staff. He holds fire drills in residence halls once a quarter, for example, and firefighters sometimes come to these.

“Its a perfect opportunity for the firefighters to come and practice,” he said. “We set off the fire alarms, they roll up and they get their gear on, connect to the hoses but dont flow water. They go to a room where we say theres a fire and they simulate what they would do and how they would attack that fire.”

Such a drill helps firefighters learn how to access the building, how to get in when there are 800 students coming out, where to park the trucks, and so forth. From these drills, Branum said, they can construct a pre-fire plan and be better prepared if there actually is a fire in the building.

The police also conduct trainings regularly, and though they chose not to use the Cavalier, theyve used such buildings in the past — staging active shooter scenarios in which they can put officers through their paces.

Getting buildings cleared for training use isnt a simple process. In the case of the Cavalier, the building had to be taken back from the contractor temporarily and everyone had to sign a release drawn up by the Attorney Generals Office.  Jan Arntz, environmental planner in the Capital Projects Office, often smoothes the way to help make it happen.

“This kind of training seems so important,” she said. “If someone wants to use an empty building for that purpose, I try to make sure the answer is yes.”