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Firefighters give Beaufort hotel staffs a quick lesson in battling blazes

Firefighter Trent Thomas, left, of the Beaufort Fire Department, watches as Colleen Jaeger of the Beaufort Inn uses a dry-chemical fire extinguisher during fire training for hospitality employees Friday morning at the Port Royal Station.
Firefighter Trent Thomas, left, of the Beaufort Fire Department, watches as Colleen Jaeger of the Beaufort Inn uses a dry-chemical fire extinguisher during fire training for hospitality employees Friday morning at the Port Royal Station. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazette

A crowded hotel can be a firefighter's worst nightmare.

With Beaufort area hotels packed weekly with families of recruits graduating from Marine Corps Parris Island and the summer tourist season looming, the Beaufort Fire Department met with more than 40 managers and staff members from local hotels for the first time Friday in the hopes of turning them into a legion of "auxiliary firefighters."

Hotel guests "are in a building with which they're totally unfamiliar. And if the fire alarms start going off, they won't evacuate; they'll call down to the front desk or pack their things," said Lt. Dan Byrne, city fire marshal. "By the time they realize it's the real thing, it's too late. If we have a hotel fire in Beaufort, it would be devastating."

The employees gathered Friday at the Paris Avenue fire station in Port Royal for an hour-long presentation about the history of hotel fires, fire safety and fire codes, followed by a half hour of hands-on lessons on using a fire extinguisher and escaping a smoke-filled room.

They also entered the department's "smoke house," a trailer filled with theatrical smoke to simulate a real fire, and were asked to "rescue" two middle school students inside. Nearby, a firefighter taught the staffers how to use a fire extinguisher to control a wastepaper-basket fire.

Philip Carroway, director of sales at the Holiday Inn and Suites, said he thought the training could be a useful way to equip hotel employees with basic fire safety skills.

"This is great for our community because it helps protect our guests at a time when our hotels are at their full capacity," Carroway said.

Byrne said he planned to continue training hotel employees and eventually expand the program to restaurants.

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