Ole Miss building opened for firefighter training

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Several young men spent Monday afternoon learning to use well-aimed brute force to save lives.
Firefighters and firefighter recruits used the University of Mississippi’s soon-to-be-demolished Miller Hall to learn how to break through doors, walls and floors to get themselves or others out of a fire.
“Firefighters learn a lot of techniques in basic training and subsequent training, but it’s very seldom they get to put these techniques to use,” said Ethan Peterson, an Oxford firefighter whose second job is as a fire inspector on the Ole Miss campus. “This building’s going to be torn down anyway, so it’s a perfect opportunity to do so.”
All shifts from Oxford Fire Department took turns in the morning, and the afternoon belonged to a dozen or so volunteers, most of whom were going through their initial certification class. Scores of rooms that once housed students provided many chances to practice forceful-entry and self-rescue techniques.
“This is for firefighters who become trapped: How can I get out? If you get lost, or if there’s a partial building collapse and you need to get out the other way, there’s a lot more technique than just busting through a wall,” Peterson said. “In a lot of residential settings, you’re dealing with sheetrock and two-by-fours. This is stucco and plaster; it has steel reinforcement in it.”
Recruits learned to use Halligan tools to break through heavy doors.
“We like to say we’re ‘hooligans with Halligans,’” joked Jeff Hood, a Southaven firefighter who also serves as an Ole Miss fire inspector. “You’ve got a lot of tools – the ax, the Halligan, the Denver tool. Sometimes brute force is the fastest way through that door.”
One of the lessons was that even brute force works best in measured amounts.
Trainer Larry McKinney had recruits hammer through a four-inch concrete floor, with each pair of men swinging a sledge for a half-minute before turning over the tool to another. Soon they had an opening big enough for a man to escape through.
“Less than four minutes and y’all had a pretty good hole going,” McKinney said. “With 10 licks apiece, y’all didn’t exhaust yourselves.”
Peterson said he hopes using the last days of condemned buildings for firefighter training will become an Ole Miss tradition.
“This is helping the community very much by helping those who help the community,” he said.
Some of those are Ole Miss students.
“I’d always wanted to do be a firefighter,” said Taylor Marks, a freshman business major from Fort Worth, Texas. “One of my friends in class was in the fire department, so I signed up, too. I can’t get enough of it.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.