Vidalia firefighters drill at Comfort Suites Hotel

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

VIDALIA &045; The alarm sounded, employees vacated the building while the firefighters entered with full gear, ready for the fire and rescue.

The report came into 911 there was smoke coming from under the door of room 211 at the Comfort Suites and there might be a person inside.

But there were no sirens and no flashing lights, and the firefighters did not drive over the speed limit &045; it was all just a drill. But because it was a drill makes it no less important.

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Assistant Fire Chief Ben Adams said the firefighters are taught they will &uot;act the same way in reality as they do in the drill.&uot;

There are three shifts &045; A, B and C &045; and all three have different fire/evacuation plans for the hotel. After the drills, the different plans will be evaluated for effectiveness and there will be one master plan.

Monday was shift C’s turn and the other two will be today and Wednesday.

After the alarm sounded and the front desk clerk called 911, VFD responded with three engines to the scene and the Incident Commander checked with the clerk for any people left in the building.

The rescue team went in first to recover a person the clerk said could be left in room 211 with smoke coming from underneath the door.

&uot;Their (people in the hotel) safety and the firefighters’ safety is the first priority. Property can be replaced,&uot; said Vidalia Fire Chief Jack Langston.

Instructions awaited the firefighters, on the door to the room told the firefighters the scenario they were facing because, obviously, there was no real fire. &uot;There is a small amount of smoke coming from under this door.

&uot;Accountability has been done and strong chance that someone is in this room.

&uot;After opening door, you find a mattress on fire with a victim laying in bathroom unconscious but breathing and no burns to the body.&uot;

After the rescue, another team went in to extinguish the fire and put out any hotspots.

But of course the simulation is just that and other factors may come in in an actual fire. There could have been a fire at night and not to mention the smoke that probably would fill the hallways, obstructing the view of the firefighters.

&uot;It went well. There is always need for improvement and improvement only comes through training,&uot; VFD Captain Rudy Rodriguez said.

&uot;You don’t know what you are going to encounter when you get there,&uot; Rodriguez said. &uot;We have to gear up for the worst things at all times.&uot;

And a fire at Comfort Suites could be a big job, considering the amount of people it can hold with its 102 rooms.

&uot;This would be considered the big one if it caught on fire,&uot; Rodriguez said.

So, that is precisely why the department made a fire plan and then executed it this week to test it.

&uot;I’m a firm believer in training,&uot; Langston said. The drill is more than just classroom and training at the station, Langston said, and it is as close as you can get to an actual event.

While this is the first, Langston said it won’t be the last.

The firefighters were not the only ones in training, hotel staff did an &uot;excellent job&uot; of evacuating, Adams said, having learned the plan Friday. The staff and any occupants retreated to the amphitheater while firefighters entered the building.

It was a lot simpler than we thought it would be,&uot; said Gail Sutherland, a front desk clerk at the hotel. &uot;But maybe we’ll never have to use it.&uot;

The plan was not only an idea of the fire departments but also done in conjunction with the hotel.

&uot;Of course, the safety of our employees and guests are our No. 1 priority,&uot; said Kay DeWeese, assistant manager at Comfort Suites.

&uot;Hopefully we won’t have a fire but if we do, hopefully we’ll be prepared.&uot;