PLEASANTVILLE — The scariest moment for firefighters is when they think they might not make it out of a burning building alive.
It was in New York City more than a decade ago that six city firefighters were trapped on the fifth story of an apartment building during a fire. They decided jumping out of the windows was their only option for survival. Three of them died and the others were severely injured.
That day, Jan. 23, 2005, is remembered as Black Sunday.
The Pleasantville Fire Department is working hard to avoid that situation. On Tuesday, the last shift of firefighters completed bailout training through All Hands Fire Equipment and Training, giving all their members the equipment and knowledge they need to safely jump out the window of a burning building if there are no other options.
“We were very fortunate enough to receive the grant that outfitted our whole department,” firefighter Eric Moran said, adding they became the first career department to receive a grant equipping all 42 firefighters through the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, created by the family of one of the firefighters injured on Black Sunday.
“Every fire department should be outfitted with these,” Moran said. “It’s necessary safety equipment.”
Each firefighter now has a seat harness that wraps around the waist and through the legs, as well as a pouch that holds the emergency escape system — a metal hook connected by rope to a descender, a mechanical grip that allows the firefighter to control the rope feeding through it.
The extra equipment adds only 3 to 4 pounds to the firefighters — a feather compared with the 80 pounds they carry when fully geared up.
But for the training, they needed a building.
Justin Hood, a firefighter with the department for eight years, and other members of the second shift worked to build a two-story training house inside the truck bay.
The gray building had two windows cut out, and firefighters in full gear climbed a ladder to get to the second level, working with an instructor to anchor their hooks to the window sill and rappel down the building, landing safely on padded mats below.
Each firefighter had to jump nine times. The last three times, they wore a black cloth over their masks to simulate conditions with zero visibility where they had to feel their way to safety — literally jumping out blind.
“It truly puts another element of safety for me to be able to go home and kiss my wife and kid at night,” said Hood, who has a 6-month-old daughter.
That feeling of safety while doing an inherently dangerous job was motivation enough for many of the firefighters, even though the department hasn’t had a bailout situation in decades.
“I love it,” firefighter and inspector Anton “Chuck” Brown said. “I love any kind of training that will allow me to go home at the end of the day.”