ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Passing by the old American Graffiti restaurant on Anastasia Island, it may appear as though crews are fighting a four-alarm fire. But do not be alarmed, it is all just a drill.
This week, firefighters from both the St. Augustine Fire Department and St. Johns County Fire Rescue are using the old restaurant as a training tool. The owner of the property arranged for the firefighters to be in the building until it is demolished on Monday to make way for a new restaurant.
"The opportunity to have a structure like this that we've never actually been into before makes it a lot more realistic," explained Lt. John Contestabile, a training officer with St. Johns County Fire Rescue. "We have some training towers and buildings, but after a few times, everybody knows the layout and there's not much you can do in there to confuse them."
The first two days of training focused on how to handle a fire with thick smoke. Lt. Contestabile used a theatrical smoke machine to fill the building and then sent firefighters in to find a "victim" inside.
The training will continue throughout the weekend with firefighters practicing cutting holes in the building's walls and roof.
The exercises are a valuable way to get firefighters from different departments working together.
"We have different systems, different rules that we work under and you get used to what everybody has to do," said Assistant Chief John Rayno with the St. Augustine Fire Department. "Sometimes our officers are in charge and then other times their officers might be in charge. So they get to work that out while they're doing this here and then talk about it when it's over."