Fire Ops 101: City Leaders Feel the Heat

Entering a hot, smoke-filled building or rappelling down a six-story tower is not something Houston City Council members or their staff typically do, but a Houston Fire Department program is changing that. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, a training program aimed at letting city leaders know first-hand what firefighters go through everyday is making its point.

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"Leave that right hand touching your hip. Ease up with that left hand and when you're ready, say off belay. Now just let the rope slide through your hand and walk backwards. There you go. Doing fine. Real good."

As an instructor watches, Jerry Greenspan eases himself out the second story window and cautiously lowers himself about 20 feet to the pavement. Greenspan is Houston city councilwoman Carol Alvarado's agenda director and is part of the fire department's "Fire Ops 101" class at a training facility near Hobby Airport.

"This isn't normally something that I would do. Rappelling off a wall like this will probably be a one-time deal. I felt real secure. You've got two guys with you as well as your own system, so these guys know what they're doing. If you follow their instructions it's like baking a cake almost."

First held in 2004, "Fire Ops 101" is an opportunity for city leaders like Councilwoman Ann Clutterbuck to put on real fire equipment, a suit that weighs more than 70 pounds, and do the same things firefighters do.

Fire Training"It's just a really incredible experience to go through this and know what our firefighters go through every single day."

Clutterbuck is in her first term on city council and says it's crucial for her and other city leaders to know exactly what firefighters need.

"It's a tremendous help to me to know exactly what they go through and how important their training is. It's not just important to the citizens of Houston, but to the entire region and probably the state because we have a phenomenal facility here with world-renowned experts in the field being able to train. It helps us, especially as we're getting ready for the budget process to know what their needs are and to see exactly how they're using the resources that our taxpayers are authorizing."

Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriski says the training has helped the relationship between city hall and the fire department, making it crystal clear why firefighters need pricy equipment, things like thermal imagers.

"I can articulate some of the needs of the fire department, but when you come out and experience it yourself and see the difference that a thermal imager makes in saving the lives of citizens in this community and firefighters. Actually, my challenges are less."

You can see pictures of "Fire Ops 101" on our website, KUHF.org.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...