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This is ONLY a Drill: The Old Wondries Toyota Building is Going Up in Smoke

  • Local police were alerted to the training exercise to handle noise complaints or calm concerns of residents. All photos by Dominic Tovar.

  • On Monday and Tuesday, Alhambra fire personnel could be seen sawing and pulling apart the roof of the old Wonderies Toyota building on the West end of Main St.

  • Battalion Chief Mitch Bray was among the supervisors leading the training exercises.

  • Each exercise ended with a wrap up session where participants in the drills and their supervisors could reflect on what went well, what could be improved, and share tips based on past experience.

  • Fire departments rarely get to practice ventilation exercises on commercial buildings, which have more obstacles than simulated sites.


Old Wonderies Toyota Building

Alhambra , CA

This week neighbors and passersby of the old Wondries Toyota building on Main Street at Bushnell Avenue heard chainsaws roaring, alarms buzzing, smoke of the artificial variety rising, and crews of firefighters rushing on and off the site. This was a drill. Or rather, a collection of drills spanning two days of training.

Toward the end of the first day, three fire trucks of varying size could be seen surrounding the building along with pink signs that read “Fire Training Ahead” to alert pedestrians and drivers to proceed with caution but that there was no imminent danger. Local police had been notified in case the event inspired 911 calls or noise complaints.

Alhambra Fire has four stations in the city. The station near the west end of Valley Blvd. and Fremont Ave. is often used to simulate Rapid Intervention Crew exercises among other critical trainings. Photo by Dominic Tovar.

One could see a crew of seven trained firefighters, in full protective gear, on top of the building hacking and sawing through the roof of the dealership. Watching them was a group of supervisors including Alhambra Battalion Chief Mitch Bray who went over best practices in these rare, but dangerous, situations.

Bray discussed a few of the real world challenges that firefighters can face on calls to commercial buildings. A few of these include strong lumber and the inability to know the location of repair such as patches to the roof and walls. When a firefighter goes into a real-life call, there is no way they can anticipate these hurdles so the best way to prepare is to practice on worn sites that are set to be demolished such as the old Wondries Toyota site.

The same is also true for the Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) procedures which occurred inside the structure with no lights on and artificial smoke. RIC are “rescuers for the rescuers” according to Bray. This simulation trains the firefighters to address a situation where a rescuer gets injured or incapacitated during a mission. A team is always on standby as backup to go in and extract them before more harm comes their way. RIC crew sizes vary depending on the size of the department and the size of the incident.

A network of fire departments from the SGV including South Pasadena, San Gabriel, San Marino, Monrovia, and other teams covered Alhambra Fire Department calls to give them time to practice the high risk and low frequency maneuvers on the commercial site of the old car dealership and repair shop. These exercises include offensive and defensive ventilation maneuvers and Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) procedures.

Though Alhambra Fire has a training station near the west end of Valley Blvd. and Fremont Ave. where they can practice these types of exercises, they seldom have the opportunity to practice ventilation exercises on older commercial sites.

The old commercial building will be demolished on Monday December 2. According to Susan Pilcher of Wonderies Toyota a new car showroom is scheduled to be built on the site.

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