PORT WASHINGTON (WITI) -- Breathing is perhaps the most important skill in any fire rescue effort because fire victims are often overcome by smoke and carbon monoxide, according to experts.
“The faster we run out of air, the less time we have to go and save somebody or put out a fire,” said Jennifer Edminster, a firefighter in Port Washington.
For firefighters, managing the air in their tanks can be the difference between life and death. Fire departments regularly conduct drills to work on safety skills. But in Port Washington, the department put a new twist on the drill -- dodgeball.
The department gathered one cold night in March, wearing full gear. Divided into two teams, the firefighters hurled purple, green, and yellow sponge balls at each other, working up a sweat and working on breathing techniques.
“The goal is to move around, bend over, be active, do different things we're not lifting anything heavy like we would on a fire, but we're still moving and moving around a little bit faster," said Eric Hill, a 40-year-old firefighter
All of the sliding, running, bending, crawling, throwing and dodging is part of a drill designed to make these firefighters aware of air.
Many of them say the most important piece of equipment to health and safety of a firefighter is the "self-contained breathing apparatus," referred to as an SCBA, for short. It's like scuba without the underwater part.
“The whole goal tonight is to see how long you can last while wearing an SCBA while doing strenuous activities,” said Brandon Gregozeski, who was running the drill for the department.
Knowing how much time you have before that moment comes is critical. They're getting used to paying attention to the air pressure gauge while facing all kinds of distractions. The gauge has various stages of alarm, "It also warns them when their air pressure is getting down and they can exit the structure," said Gregozeski
The firefighters hear a bell when the tank is almost empty, so there's only about enough time to get out of a burning building.
“There are situations where you have a lost firefighter or a firefighter down or something,” said Hill. “If that person can control their breathing a lot better it takes that much longer for someone to be able to get to them.”
“You can definitely deplete a bottle a lot faster than 30 minutes,” said Gregozeski.
“It's not one person on a fire,” Hill said. “It's two or three people on a fire. There's always somebody there with you. To watch out for you and watch your back. With dodgeball you've got your team with you and watch everybody at the same time, it's a different concept. Fighting fire is a bit more focused, where this is kind of random and try to stay in the game as long as you can."