By Valencia Wicker
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – The raging fire that killed nine firefighters left an unforgettable mark in the lives of their colleagues. Now, five years later, firefighters are still learning the skills to save themselves if need be.
"This is a very intense class. This is for a seasoned firefighter, not for someone brand new on the job," said Randy Carter, deputy director of training for the City of Charleston Fire Department. "This is in the event the RIT team (rapid intervention team) couldn't get to them, this is too be self-sufficient and to learn some techniques to get their own selves out of dangerous situations."
Firefighters are blind-folded and forced to feel their way to safety through a simulated burning building.
"If they choose the wrong direction, it would lead them further into the fire," said Carter. "If they choose the right direction, it gets them out to safety."
"It's really, really tough. They break you down physically, mentally. They want to push you over that edge. It just takes you far beyond what your limits are," said Brent Melcher, a firefighter for 13 years.
"The first thing they do in the morning is we break them down to make them tired mentally and physically, because when you're in a house fire, wherever you're at, it's dark, it's hot and you have nothing to rely on but your training," said Carter.
"We're out here, it's pretty noisy. We were trying to yell and, he was, my partner might have been three or four feet in front of me and he still couldn't hear me. So, that's the importance of touch. Making sure the person is there and communicating the whole time," said Melcher.
The training helps to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Sofa Super Store fire.
"It would be hard to know what difference it would make but, anything we do today builds on these guys futures. And, our saying is 'everybody goes home' and this is part of that," said Carter.
The survival training program will end on Sunday with a 24-hour shift.