Neighbors gathered around the house and stared as smoke billowed from 13 Brander Parkway Thursday afternoon.
Members of the Shelter Island Fire Department, in full fire-fighting gear, were breaking the windows and preparing to storm through the front door.
The dramatic scene was a drill, training for the volunteers for an occasion when a real blaze might threaten lives and property.
The smoke billowing from the house came from a machine and mannequins, not human beings, were pulled from the structure. Broken glass and an unhinged door were real, however, since the house is scheduled to be demolished.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 55% of all 911 calls responded to by the American fire departments involve a medical emergency. Less than 10% involve actual fires. Over the last 10 years, the numbers of fires and fire deaths have gradually declined, thanks to some outstanding efforts in fire prevention and training.
This summer on Shelter Island, there have been 40 recorded incidents requiring the Fire Department, predominantly calls to faulty fire alarms. Nevertheless, the department is training regularly to keep members at peak readiness.
Secretary of the Department Mike Johnson said fire chiefs and fire commissioners are always looking for opportunities to train. “It’s not every day that someone is getting his or her house demolished,” he said.
To conduct a live fire — or in this case smoke — exercise, the department has to wait for somebody to donate their house or a building to use.
As they would during an actual structural fire, Emergency Medical Service members were on hand and the Fire Department Auxiliary had coffee and food at the scene.
Firefighters who enter the interior of buildings have to go through separate training from those who deal with the exterior. According to Fire Rescue Magazine, a publication written by former firefighters, exterior firefighters, like those outside 13 Brander Parkway, must pursue “Firefighter I” status, which means demonstrating their ability to extinguish a fire involving stacked or piled “Class A materials,” such as wood, fabric, paper, trash and/or plastics that can be fought outside the structure.
For the members of the Shelter Island Fire Department who braved pitch-black conditions within the house caused by the smoke machine, they had to be specially trained to face those conditions.
Skills honed at the drill Thursday included the use of equipment, communication with other firefighters and search and rescue techniques.
Although it was only a drill, lives might have been saved in the future due to the expert training firefighters will put in place for actual emergencies.