Teams of three made their way inside the simulated building, pulling a fire hose and taking aim at a pile of burning straw and wooden pallets in the corner. Firefighters used a sophisticated thermal imaging device to determine that the temperature near the flames was nearly 1,000 degrees.
The BannerGraphic was invited to take part in the training exercise and saw first-hand the action from inside the container.
As the flames crept higher and began to move across the ceiling of the container, a thick black smoke started to form and quickly sunk to the floor where we were crouched in a corner. Soon the smoke was so thick, we weren't able to see our hands in front of our faces and the heat began to build.
The thermal imaging camera indicated that temperatures where we were crouched were in the area of 500 degrees. Water from the firehose trickled across the metal floor of the container and was steaming as it moved.
Firefighting gear, including a coat, pants, boots and gloves, along with a protective hood and oxygen mask, kept us from being burned. As the exercise wore on, the air inside the container became simply too hot to breathe and we had to switch out teams.
It was only the second time the fire department had conducted exercises inside the simulator since acquiring it through a grant from the Indiana Fire Training System, District 7 Training Council. During the first exercise, firefighters underestimated the intense conditions that would be experienced inside the container and at least one firefighter's helmet was melted by the intense heat.
Newgent told the BannerGraphic Monday that the $23,000 grant paid for two shipping containers, which have been welded together to create two separate rooms and several doors and windows.
"It's great that we have something like this in our own backyard now," Newgent said. "Before we'd have to send guys over to Indianapolis, to Wayne Township, to train at their facility there."
Newgent has big plans for the training site which is located next to the Putnam County Highway Garage and is open to any and all agencies in the county. Various local companies donated the stone for the parking lot and wood was also donated and used to build other pieces of training equipment -- a tower and roofline on which firefighters can practice climbing.
"This is the Putnam County training site, not just Greencastle," Newgent emphasized.
The dozen or so firefighters who took part in Monday's exercise are preparing to be trainers for upcoming classes. Firefighters from other agencies in the county will be able to come to the site and take part in classroom instruction and hands-on training.
A fire is unpredictable, but Newgent is hopeful that with continued practice, firefighters will be able to better predict how fire will behave in a real emergency.
"A site like this is invaluable," he said. "Now there is no excuse to put a firefighter out there on the street without them first going through an actual fire through this training site."