The Rodeway Inn was an eerie place to be the afternoon of March 24. The motel next to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center sat empty, with the rooms striped bare of furniture, ceiling panels removed and exposing the building’s framework, and wood paneling torn from the walls. No lights were on—just the filtering of sunlight through the motel’s unoccupied rooms lit the hallway.
To add to the creepiness, fog from a smoke simulator floated through the hallway, and the floral-print carpet squished with each step, saturated by hundreds of gallons worth of water.
The Rodeway Inn was purchased by St. Al’s in December 2014, and will soon be demolished for redevelopment. Before then, however, the hospital donated the graying motel to the Boise Fire Department to conduct trainings for two weeks. Over the next several days, Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan hopes to run all of the city’s 300 fire fighters through training in the decrepit building. He also invited the Meridian and Eagle fire departments to train as well.
Ideally, Doan would have liked to see the Rodeway Inn burned to simulate a hotel or apartment fire. But because of its proximity to the hospital and Interstate 184, burning wasn’t a safe option. Instead, the fire department used a non-toxic smoke simulator to fill the halls.
“The crews don’t know what they’re going to come upon,” Doan explained. “Dispatch has told them there’s smoke showing. They have to figure out where the smoke is coming from, and how to attack the fire.”
Right then, three engines, a ladder truck and a battalion chief pulled into the parking lot—14 firefighters altogether.
Three firefighters set up ladders nearby a smoking room on the second story of the motel. Several others made their way inside, working to manipulate a fire hose through the hallways and up the stairs. The hose pumped 250 gallons per minute into the smoke-filled room.
Minutes later, they emerged with two dummies found inside the building, and laid them beside firefighters standing nearby. Those crew members pulled medical supplies from an EMS bag and went to work treating the dummies.
Fifteen minutes later, the training mission was over.
Battalion Chief Steve Rasulo said the white smoke filling the halls of the Rodeway Inn isn’t quite like what happens in a house fire. That smoke is usually thicker and black. Homes usually hold smoke more than the hotel did, too, making visibility even lower.
“Most people who die in a house fire die from the smoke and toxic gases,” Rasulo said. “Few are killed by direct fire.”
Rasulo said synthetic carpets and an increase in plastics over the last few decades have made house fires worse.
“A desktop computer contains enough plastic to make it equivalent to ten gallons of gasoline,” he said, adding that fire doubles in size every 30 seconds by a rule of thumb.
That makes these training sessions crucial, according to Doan. He said he always appreciates when he has the opportunity to train his staff on actual buildings like Rodeway Inn. Last summer, the Boise Fire Department practiced on Boise State University’s alumni building, setting fire to it on Aug. 18, 2014. Doan said they receive houses to burn every few months, usually when the owners want to redevelop the land.
If Doan had the opportunity to burn this motel, he said the burning would have gone on for weeks. The fire department will often rebuild sheetrock walls to simulate the fire again and again. Before burning, structures have to be checked for asbestos and other safety hazards.
Despite the fireless nature of Tuesday’s training, Doan still called it a “great opportunity” to help Boise firefighters train in a challenging environment.
- This story and the accompanying images were originally published in the Boise Weekly, used by permission from the author Jessica Murri.