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Soon-to-be demolished Hanover Mall becomes training ground for firefighters

Firefighters from 11 communities used space at the closed Hanover Mall to train for two days, practicing survival skills such as freeing themselves from wires, using thermal imaging, breaching concrete walls, and ventilating roofs.
Stephen Ryerson/Hanover Fire Department
Firefighters from 11 communities used space at the closed Hanover Mall to train for two days, practicing survival skills such as freeing themselves from wires, using thermal imaging, breaching concrete walls, and ventilating roofs.

Amid deafening noise and billowing smoke, more than 120 firefighters from 11 fire departments worked early this month to save fallen colleagues trapped in the old JC Penney store at Hanover Mall. Luckily, the rescued firefighters were mannequins, the smoke came from machines — as did the noise — and it was all part of training drills held in the mall before it is demolished.

Demolition is expected to start within two weeks and will make way for Hanover Crossing , an open-air retail and entertainment complex complemented by almost 300 apartments in four buildings at the edge of the 77-acre property.

Before the walls start coming down, though, firefighters used the space to practice survival skills: bashing through concrete walls to reach mannequins fitted out with alarms, sawing through flat metal roofs to ventilate smoke, and wiggling through wires and tiny spaces.

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“I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and this was the most intensive training I’ve ever done,” said Rockland Deputy Fire Chief Tom Heaney. “It was a great opportunity for us to get our hands on a building like this, and we all have a building like this in our communities — a Home Depot or a Lowe’s.”

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The two-day training event was organized by Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Jay Cavallaro, with the help of Heaney and Norwell Deputy Chief Jeff Simpson.

Participating communities included Abington, Cohasset, Duxbury, Halifax, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Kingston, Norwell, Pembroke, and Rockland.

Heaney said the focus was on enhancing firefighter safety.

As part of the training, the instructors simulated a fire in the empty store, using smoke machines and creating obstacles and dark, noisy conditions, Heaney said. Three mannequins were hidden in the area and equipped with Personal Alert Safety Systems, which activate a shrill alarm if a firefighter is motionless for 30 seconds. The equipment is standard on all self-contained breathing apparatus that firefighters wear, Heaney said.

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Firefighters had to follow the signals to rescue the downed “firefighters,” and practiced using thermal imaging cameras and setting up and following ropes to extract themselves from rescue operations, he said.

Firefighters practiced cutting large ventilation holes in the heavy commercial roof, which Heaney called “a very labor-intensive process.”

“We rarely get such an opportunity,” he said of the training.

“If anybody is thinking of tearing down a commercial building, or even a house, most fire departments would love to get their hands on that building to do some training,” he added. “It doesn’t happen frequently enough.”

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.