For weeks, firefighters are learning how to find and rescue an entangled victim, bring a lost firefighter out of a burning home and communicate in blinding, heavy smoke.

They are learning the intricacies of the construction of older homes in downtown Franklin and how that could affect how a fire is fueled and spread.

Their public safety co-workers, the members of the joint Franklin police and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, are rehearsing over and over how to get into homes and stay safe while looking for a suspect.

The crews are training in four homes, south of downtown Franklin. Occasionally, a home is donated to emergency workers for them to train in before it is torn down to make way for a construction project. But rarely do local crews get four neighboring homes to train in for weeks on end, such as they are now. The homes are being torn down to create a parking lot next to the former garment factory on Wayne Street. The factory is being revamped to become high-end housing, shops and a unique event center.

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First, Habitat for Humanity and Franklin Heritage went through the homes collecting any fixtures that could be salvaged. Then the police and fire crews got to work.

Don’t expect to see flames licking the roofs. Smoke, probably. And you might hear what sounds like gunfire, but rest assured it is not the real thing.

The Franklin Fire Department started training in late July, and firefighters are learning how to get out of a burning building safely, how to rescue a firefighter who is lost or trapped in the home, how to overcome obstacles and connect to a water supply and advanced search techniques to rescue a victim when they know where the person is in the home, Division Chief Andrew Tames said.

All firefighters are being trained. They are learning how to fight fires and rescue victims by feeling — with tape over their masks, rooms blacked out and no thermal imaging cameras, Tames said.

In the coming weeks, they’ll conduct a full-scale scenario. All firefighters on duty will be called to a hypothetical fire, but the homes on Wayne Street will not be set on fire. Emergency crews will break down the doors, find a lost or disoriented firefighter and hook hoses to hydrants. Dispatchers may be asked to practice as well, Tames said. The smoke you might see will be light and dissipate quickly.

The fire department typically gets to practice in one home per year. Practicing on multiple homes during the course of a month is rare, said Tames, who coordinated the training.

“This is a great opportunity to do some of these skills that we don’t normally get to do,” he said.

The SWAT team, which is called during stand-offs or when a high-risk felon or suspect is located, is practicing ways to break down doors and search a building for a wanted person.

“We’re just practicing movement,” sheriff’s office Maj. Jerry Pickett said. “You really can’t do enough of that.”

The 20-person team, which includes medics, a critical care nurse, an emergency room doctor and Franklin police and county sheriff’s deputies, trains at Camp Atterbury and at the sheriff’s office range, and sometimes practices their movements on homes about to be torn down in White River Township, Pickett said. That practice is valuable because every home is designed differently.

Training time is critical for all members, even the medical workers, Pickett said.

“We’re all in the hot zone,” he said. “If someone goes down, they have to go in.”

At a glance

Franklin Fire Department training

Trainings: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week and next

Franklin police and Johnson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team

Next training: Aug. 24

All training days are tentative based on local emergency calls.

Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2774.