Storm damage recovery

Water Helps Firefighters Train

Blog Post
A group of firefighters stand atop Powell Butte in a training exercise around small confined space in the ground.
The Portland Water Bureau hosts Portland Fire on Powell Butte for training in confined spaces.
Firefighters crouch on the ground next to large bundles of black hose.
Firefighters do their regular training out of their own facility in the Parkrose neighborhood, but become too familiar with it, so using Water Bureau sites provides an extra challenge.

Walk around the perimeter of any Water Bureau property with Safety Officer Dennis Hughes and you can see his eyes scanning, checking on certain spots. Hughes is well -versed in the locations of approximately 4,500 confined spaces within our water system.  

“There’s one there, another over there, a third just down there,” he says nonchalantly, standing in front of our Interstate facility on Tillamook Street.  

In April, Hughes teamed with Operating Engineer Jay Fyre to find a confined space at Powell Butte to help Portland Fire & Rescue teach a dozen firefighters advanced technical rescue skills.  A confined space is a small area typically used for work or maintenance, often with poor ventilation and a difficult or restricted means of exit. Rescues in confined spaces can be dangerous, even fatal, for firefighters and the people they’re trying to rescue.” 

“We want them to drill at our facilities because we get to learn from their end what they’re looking at, get to tap into their knowledge base,” Hughes said. “They also get to see what our spaces actually look like, which is super important. If there’s ever a rescue, they’d know our protocols and know what our people are up against.” 

The firefighters worked with infrared cameras and stimulated smoke by putting a fog machine in one of the confined spaces. About a dozen firefighters, recently assigned to Station 1 in Downtown Portland, ran through the training. An outside instructor ran them through drills, simulating a rope rescue to save two victims, who appeared trapped in the confined space.  

Portland Fire has their own facilities in Northeast Portland, but Hughes says firefighters quickly become too familiar with the space, making it tougher for instructors to properly challenge them.  

“Their recruits memorize the course, so when they simulate smoke, whether they want to or not, it’s in their muscle memory,” Hughes said. “Sending them into a Water Bureau facility space they’re unfamiliar with, one they’ve never evaluated, it changes things dramatically and we’re all safer because of it.”