Duane Hughes is still trying to get his feet wet in his new position. Hughes took over as Columbus Fire and Rescue chief of training in June, but still comes in on Fridays, typically a day off for salaried city employees, to get a better grasp of his position.
Hughes, who grew up in Columbus and graduated from Lee High School, joined Columbus Fire and Rescue in October 1995 as a firefighter. He rose through the ranks to take charge of all training, along with a number of other duties.
“Fire Chief Ken Moore had been director of training for about six years before I joined and a few years after,” Hughes, 41, said. “When I was interviewing for this job, he told me that if I thought this job was just about training, I was sorely mistaken.”
The position also includes being the medical control officer, which serves as the liaison between Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle and the department in case any firefighters are exposed to infections. He is also responsible for the safety of firefighters on scene, handling applications of firefighters to training schools, sending department reports to a national fire database, keeping up with training records and reporting to the fire chief the number of hours spent training.
Hughes has a wife, Kessle, and two children, Daylun, 7, and Duane Jr., 9.
What is it like to be inside a building that is on fire and fully involved?
One of my most vivid memories was my first house fire and realizing it wasn’t like it was on television where you can see everything and stand up and walk around. It’s pitch black and you can’t even see the hand in front of your face. Once you reach the seed of the fire, you can’t see the flames like it is on television. It’s just an orange glow.
How do you go about searching a house on fire if you cannot see? Is that part of the training?
Before we go in, we decide either right- or left-hand pattern. You are searching with that hand and sweeping with that foot to make contact with something or a person and navigate the house. When we do training, we practice with a mannequin. You can tell the difference. We also use other firefighters. It’s subtle differences that will let you know.
Like the fire earlier this week, Battalion Chief Martin Andrews and firefighter Jeff Edmonson rescued (93-year-old Harriett Hood). That’s the type of training where they got to the fire, the family members said which room she was in, but they had to use right- or left-hand pattern to navigate the house and used fireman’s carry to get her out.
What is fireman’s carry?
That’s the way they carry a person out of the house. You can either come from behind and grab them under their arms, you can throw them over your shoulders, or if there’s two you can have one grab under the arms and the other get the legs. We always go into a house in two-person teams. That’s just for safety. The training is key; that’s my job. You’ve got to know the difference between a baby and a pillow or stuffed animal because you can’t see in there.
Where do you train the officers? How can you simulate a real fire?
We’re referred to them by the city building inspection department and generally they will tell me that they’ve got a house about to be demolished by the city or the owner wants to give the house over to the city. I’ll go out and inspect to see if they have any training value and make sure it meets the requirements of no hazardous material. If it does, we’ll train in it and eventually burn it. And the burning itself is actually training because once it’s in flames you don’t want the flames to spread to the homes next door.
Do people ever call 911 reporting a fire when you guys do this controlled burn training?
What we do is usually the morning or day of the fire, we’ll go door to door letting people know and we’ll also let 911 know in case there are any drivers coming by. We’ll also use a different radio frequency.
Do you run the risk of nearby houses getting damaged by the fire?
As training officer, before the department accepts one of these houses, it is my job to assess the property and make sure we aren’t going to endanger any other homes or make sure there aren’t other dangerous hazards. We make sure no one is in that house before we do the burn. Sometimes people will use the abandoned house as a hangout or for illicit drug use.
Me, Battalion Chief Martin Andrews and Moore are auxiliary officers with the Columbus Police Department and we are allowed to carry firearms. We also carry the role as fire investigators, and in the course of determining the cause, we can interview and detain if we have to.
So you technically can arrest someone?
Yes. But would we do that solo? No. We would in conjunction with the police. In no shape, form or fashion would we try to do law enforcement. We would detain until police arrived. But anytime you keep someone from going where they want to go, you essentially are arresting them.
What’s your favorite sport?
Probably be football. My national team would be the Cowboys. When I was growing up, if you didn’t love “America’s Team” then you weren’t American. I think there are only three Cowboys fans in this whole department, so we keep a low profile.
Do you have any hobbies?
I am a volunteer with American Red Cross. I teach CPR and first aid. I’ve done that for the past 15 years. I also volunteer with American Heart doing the same thing. I’m also into auto sports. In the past, the only thing I had was Mustangs. I loved building Mustangs. My favorite one was a 1994. It was red.
With family, your priorities change. Looking at the new ones now, I’ve been bit with the bug. I’d love to get a new one. I don’t know how that would go over with the wife, though. Maybe I could blame it on a mid-life crisis.