By NICHOLAS MATTSON
Around 300 people showed up to the Paso Robles Fire Department on Saturday to witness some of Paso Robles’ first responders in simulated action during a first-ever open house event that included a vehicle extraction, structure fire, and interaction with firefighters and equipment open to the general public.
The event was a first for the fire department, and the attendance exceeded expectations. As a part of the mission of the Paso Robles Fire Department, it fits the bill and is expected to be an annual event.
“Our mission statement is ‘We are dedicated to protecting your quality of life through exceptional public service and interactive community engagement’ so the event really meets the criteria for the second part of that,” Battalion Chief Scott Hallett said. “People could come see the station and see what we do, and most importantly we were able to talk to people.”
The station was abuzz with staff who dedicated part of their Saturday to engaging the public. Fire Marshal Randy Harris gave live examples of how quickly a spark can ignite landscaping materials around the house, and how decisions in landscaping can impact a home’s survivability during a fire.
“There have been a lot of changes. We have new staff, a new chief and 10 new firefighters. We have an opportunity to set the stage for the future.”Battalion Chief Scott Hallett
“Junipers and rosemary can catch embers and ignite,” Harris said. “Especially rosemary, as it matures is really dead and woodsy inside. All of a sudden this equates to a 10- to 15-foot flame right on your house. It is really important that within 5 to 10 feet you have nothing combustible, especially on the corners or somewhere you can get fire into your walls. If you get more fire-resistant plants, and you use more gravels and non-combustibles in that first defensible space, it is huge.”
Harris moved inside the house to discuss smoke detectors, and the need for replacement about every 10 years.
“Smoke detectors have a small piece of radiation inside them, and that is what they look for with the particles,” Harris said. “Those expire in about 10 years, and people don’t really realize that. They usually just check the batteries.”
For the kids, plastic fire helmets, stickers, and Sparky the fire dog gave the audience an immersive experience as they moved around the fire house on guided and self-guided tours.
A couple of exhibitions put the firefighters on display. The first was a simulated extraction, with the firefighters pulling doors and roofs off vehicles using pry bars, axes, and battery-powered cutting tools to detach and disassemble two vehicles.
The second simulation included a structure fire and arrival of a fire engine. The engine drove down 9th Street and onto the driveway of the fire station. Firefighters jumped into action, stringing out hoses and climbing ladders to the roof.
A nontoxic smoke machine turned the station’s locker room into a simulated structure fire and firefighters entered to battle the “blaze” and remove a dummy from the simulated danger.
The action kept the crowd engaged and there was a strong response when the firefighters emerged from the billowing smoke through the doorway with a dummy in arms.
“For a first open house, it exceeded our expectations,” Hallett said. “It went really well, and we had a good turnout from the staff spending a Saturday helping out.”
The open house is slated to be the first of an ongoing annual event to fulfill the PRFD mission.
“There has been a lot of changes,” Hallett said. “We have new staff, a new chief [Jonathan Stornetta] and 10 new firefighters. We have an opportunity to set the stage for the future. We have a lot of support from the City of Paso Robles, the city council, and want to keep putting our best foot forward.”