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Firefighters practice taming the flames
Drill teaches fire recruits how to deal with propane blaze
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A group of Gainesville Fire Department recruits prepares to put out a propane tank fire Thursday night during a training exercise. - photo by Tom Reed

The official term is “pressurized container fire control,” but most folks just call it the Christmas tree.

On a blustery Thursday night, 20 Gainesville Fire Department recruits took turns in teams approaching a spectacular fountain of flame that at times reached 40 feet into the air. The sight of the controlled flames shooting out of a 500-gallon propane tank turned some firefighters watching from the sidelines into amateur photographers, snapping photos or video of the magnificent fireball.

The drill involved teams of firefighters slowly approaching the tank with a pair of hoses, putting enough water on the flames to reach in and turn a valve.

“This exercise lets them build a lot of confidence in their equipment,” said Sharon Sparks, an instructor from the Georgia Fire Academy in Forsyth. “All they have to protect them from a lot of heat is that fog pattern of water.”

It also helps acclimate new recruits to dealing with flames up close, Assistant Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough said.

“This eases them in slowly,” he said.

The recruits are in their eighth week of training. The class of 20 was hired after the city was awarded a $1.92 million grant through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. The class could finish training by late May or early June, Lt. Jason Patterson said.

Thursday’s drill was made possible by the donation of 400 gallons of propane from Blossman Propane and Gas, a company that has a vested interest in seeing that firefighters learn the right way to deal with pressurized containers.

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