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Fire training goes wrong for North Las Vegas fire chief

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Updated: 7/18/2012 7:44 am
NORTH LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- As you're about to see, training to fight fires can be as dangerous as the real thing.

News 3’s Mackenzie Warren obtained video of an accident during a training drill in January that lead to last week's suspension of the North Las Vegas Fire Chief.

What was meant to be practice got a little too real. That day, four men were hurt—two badly. Shortly after, the exercise burned up a partnership between two fire departments and now six months later, the accident could cost Chief Al Gillespie his job.

Urgent radio calls and expletives from onlookers provide insight into the failed live fire drill. Three different cameras captured the accident, as two veteran firefighters bailed out of the drill just in time. And after the two men got out, it was a matter of seconds before the flames intensified. A camera mounted above the training exercise shows a different view of the escape—both of them suffering first and second degree burns.

As the flames continue to rip, the drama continues, when two fuel sources spontaneously ignite - they weren't supposed to - and blow the plywood windows right off the makeshift building.

North Las Vegas Fire Chief Al Gillespie is now feeling the intense heat. Because of the January mishap, the city has placed Gillespie on paid administrative leave. Gillespie’s department was in charge that day.

“As fire chief he understands his role and responsibility for all aspects of that department and he doesn’t take that lightly,” says City Manager Tim Hacker. Hacker is the one to decide whether the chief will keep his job. “To make sure that there was the appropriate level of communication and cooperation and in essence, I’m concerned with oversight,” says Hacker.

Hacker's decision will be based partly on a report ordered by the city of Las Vegas that reveals a lack of communication and no evacuation plan. A briefing was held before the live fire drill—but the report describes the meeting as “disjointed.” The report also reveals there was confusion amongst firefighters about who was in charge and a discrepancy over how many firefighters were actually in the burning building.

In all, four firefighters were hurt—two of them seriously: a Henderson and a Las Vegas firefighter. It’s likely no coincidence the city of Las Vegas has since called off an agreement to train with North Las Vegas fire. And now Hacker is left to assess the damage...

“It’s important to me that when we are working with other entities that we are holding ourselves to an even higher standard,” says Hacker. “Because we are influencing those relationships.” He will make a decision about the chief in the coming weeks. Hacker’s calling the botched training an “isolated incident” and wants all jurisdictions to have confidence in North Las Vegas

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