SHELBY TOWNSHIP — With emergency response vehicles, firefighters in full regalia and smoke billowing from a side door of the Packard Proving Grounds repair garage Aug. 20, passers-by might have been alarmed.
However, there was no reason to fear. The operation was a training exercise for about 15 firefighters from all four of the department’s stations to hone their search-and-rescue and extinguishing techniques.
“We try to do four to five (training exercises) a year where we really smoke up a place and do the searches,” said Chester Storey, chief of training. “But we train all the time.”
Before firefighters arrived, Storey set up two dummies — one dressed as a firefighter in the middle of the floor and one as a child against the far wall of the garage. He then used a fog machine to fill the garage with a harmless water-based solution that simulated smoke.
Although visibility was limited to several feet, Storey said actual structure fires have even less visibility. Once firefighters entered the space, he said they did a left-handed or right-handed search, where they crawled around the perimeter to orient themselves.
“The one dummy is far off the wall, so they have to use ropes to find it,” he said. “One (firefighter) will stay on the wall and one will come out so many feet, go across, go back and come back.”
The repair garage was a unique venue for training, Storey said, because it is a wide-open space similar to a gymnasium, warehouse or factory, which would be beneficial for firefighters to know, since they are more familiar with houses with furniture and smaller rooms.
After the first training session, battalion chief Michael Gaydos spoke with firefighters about their experience and offered feedback about their performance. The second session was interrupted by a call about an electrical fire in a kitchen, but he said when firefighters returned, they would also use fire hoses on the exterior of the garage.
Packard Proving Grounds volunteer Bruce Webster said this was the first time emergency response training took place at the historic grounds to his knowledge, but that the group of volunteers was pleased to partner with the Shelby Township Fire Department.
“The chief was there at the proving grounds for a different event, and he had a little talk with the president of the (Packard Motor Car Foundation), and he just got inspired to look at the space,” Webster said. “He said it’s very difficult to do this kind of training exercise anywhere else in the township.”
As the foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Webster said he was glad for the opportunity to work with the community and raise awareness about the historic site. The repair garage, he said, was built in 1929 and served as a place to repair and evaluate cars that were tested at the site.
He said after the mid-1970s, the garage was abandoned until the Packard Motor Car Foundation formed in 2002 and began to restore and renovate the location.
The Packard Proving Grounds are located at 49965 Van Dyke Ave., north of 22 Mile Road. For more information about the site, visit www.packardmotorfdn.org.