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For South Whatcom Fire, it's all fun and games until somebody's air pack runs out

Watch South Whatcom firefighters play dodgeball in full turnout gear

Firefighters with South Whatcom Fire Authority used their air management training -- trying to conserve air while wearing full gear, breathing from a tank and mask -- by playing dodge ball Tuesday night at the station house.
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Firefighters with South Whatcom Fire Authority used their air management training -- trying to conserve air while wearing full gear, breathing from a tank and mask -- by playing dodge ball Tuesday night at the station house.

The "Five D's" of dodgeball, according to "the great" Patches O'Houlihan in the movie "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," are: Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.

"If you master these," O'Houilhan proclaimed during a training session in the movie, "no amount of balls on earth can hit you."

South Whatcom Fire Authority would like to add a sixth "D" to that list, and it might just save a firefighter's life.

Don't use up your air.

On its Facebook page, South Whatcom Fire posted video of crews going through training in the apparatus bay at the Geneva Station Tuesday evening, focusing on air management or air conservation skills.

Their training method? A friendly game of dodgeball — though in this one, everyone is wearing approximately 55 pounds of turnout gear, including an air pack, and the winner isn't the last man standing, but rather the last man with air.

And in this game, throwing balls in the (fire)house is perfectly acceptable — even encouraged.

"It teaches you to be physically active while learning to manage your air," South Whatcom Fire Chief Dave Ralston said of the training method. "One of the things we do is see who can stay on the air longest while playing. We're always looking for ways to conserve air. We use physical exercise to help us learn how to make air last longer."

Those skills become crucial in the field, when firefighters have to put out maximum physical effort while battling blazes and maximize their limited supply of air at the same time.

Ralston said South Whatcom Fire has used dodgeball to work on those skills for about three years. It gets firefighters' body heat and heart rates up while training them to control the urge to breathe too deeply and too fast during physical activity.

Crews from Geneva, Sudden Valley and Lake Samish participated in Tuesday's training, and the firefighters love the competition the game provides.

"There are always bragging rights in the fire hall," Ralston said. "There's always competition — good friendly competition. You mix in that it's a training component, and the guys really get into it.

"We train a lot on search and rescue and a number of the other skills we need in the field, and this is just one of the ways we've found to help keep our guys ready."

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