Santa Rosa firefighters show KTVU's Frank Somerville the ropes

SANTA ROSA (KTVU) -- Santa Rosa Fire Department firefighters regularly hold drills to test their readiness for emergency disasters.

The Fire Opps 101 drills allow the city's firefighters to test their responses to scenarios that they could actually face one day.  KTVU anchor Frank Somerville suited up with some of the firefighters one day in May to experience the drills firsthand.

The drills are necessary for a department that has been managing a growing number of calls for help. Last year, Santa Rosa firefighters responded to 26,000 emergency calls, compared to 9,000 such calls in 1990.

During the training, the participants wear protective gear that covers every inch of their skin during the drills, which is made heavier by a breathing apparatus.

The firefighters participate in several drills, including one called the confidence course. During that event, the idea is to train the emergency responders on what it would be like to crawl around inside a burning building.

During that course, it's completely dark inside and participants have to overcome obstacles likes dangling wires.

"It sounds easy," Somerville says. "But when you're the one doing it it's a lot more difficult than you think."

The practice sessions are important because materials used in buildings and vehicles change constantly so firefighters have to be able to adapt, another reason why many of them say they can never have too much training.

Many of the calls received by the firefighters are for medical assistance so they have to know how to respond if the person needing help is trapped inside a vehicle. For those calls, the firefighters have to use a tool called the Jaws of Life, which has enough force to split 33,000 pounds apart.

For the untrained, it might look chaotic when firefighters first arrive on a scene but each one knows exactly what they need to do. thanks to the regular drills they participate in.


KTVU anchor Frank Somerville contributed to this report.