On a day when temperatures reached the mid-90s, it's fortunate the drill numerous area fire departments took part in at the Omaha Public Safety Training Center didn't add any more fire to the heat.
Fort Calhoun, Arlington, Kennard, Irvington and Ponca Hills volunteer fire departments instead focused on water Saturday — tens of thousands of gallons of water.
The rural water supply drill was a check to see how much water the departments could transport and how many gallons of water they could continuously hose onto a fire by using tankers constantly transporting more water from a hydrant to the scene.
Fort Calhoun Fire Chief Dan Mallory, who helped organize much of the drill, said the exercise was focused on responding to a large building fire at the Blair Municipal Airport, like a hanger, but could be scaled down to a plane crash or even responding to a fire on larger and more remote countryside properties.
"It's a pretty good deal for everyone because it's pretty normal to have this many departments show up to a scene," Fort Calhoun Assistant Fire Chief Justin Thompson said.
For the two-hour drill, Fort Calhoun's new aerial truck, ladder reaching into the sky, parked at the top of the training center's driving course ready to spray water into the grassy hills behind. The rest of the departments and their fleets of red and yellow fire trucks were at the bottom of the hill.
Once the drill started, the trucks simulated the 17-minute average time to reach the Blair airport from nearby hydrants by driving through a cone course simulating the twists and turns of the road. After a stop at a hydrant, the trucks drove up to the aerial truck, filling up two large tubs which could hold 1,500 and 2,000 gallons of water, respectively. That water then was pumped to the aerial truck.
Thirty minutes into the drill, Mallory said the aerial truck was spraying about 525 gallons per minute. The tubs remained nearly full by the ever coming and going convoy of trucks from the five departments. Mallory said he wanted to see 700 gallons per minute coming out of the ladder truck soon. Soon came, and the tubs began to dwindle to the half-full mark before steadying.
"Put some pressure on these guys," Mallory said of upping the aerial's gallon rate. "If the water stops, the drill fails."
Mallory added that if something were to actually happen at the airport, there would likely be more trucks constantly supplying water. Blair and Bennington volunteer fire departments, who would respond to such a scene, did not attend the drill and Irvington had one truck that would normally be used being repaired.
"If this was a normal day, we'd have a few more in the shuttle," Mallory said.
Thompson said it is fortunate that Mallory, also a firefighter in Omaha, had connections to use the training facility just off of state Highway 133. The drill was supposed to take place at the Blair airport itself, but the city of Blair had two water pumps out of service for maintenance. Thompson said the departments couldn't use hydrants for a drill because the amount of water being pumped into Blair due to the maintenance was just above the amount of water the city was using.
"A lot of people would be pretty upset," Thompson said.
Mallory said that his department has used the training facility a few times in the past.
"We've been down here a few times to use props and things like that," he said. "It's nice to have something like this, this close."
Thompson said drills like the one nearly two dozen firefighters took part in Saturday are essential preparatory exercises.
"We're learning a lot," he said. "These kinds of things help us weed out the problems."