LAKE ARROWHEAD - A firefighter is in a simulated attic fire trying to keep his breathing apparatus and facemask from becoming entangled in the serpentine telephone, Internet and fiber-optic wires running through the small space.

With simulated flames starting to engulf material just behind him, and hearing and feeling the sickening thud letting him know he's just hit a wall, he comes to the realization he can crawl no further.

Bracing himself, he uses his oxygen tank as a makeshift battering ram and breaks through the drywall and emerges on the other side.

(Beatriz Valenzuela/Staff)

This was just one of several scenarios San Bernardino County firefighters practiced Friday at a training exercise in Lake Arrowhead designed not only to help them become better at their job, said fire Engineer Ryan Beckers, a spokesman for the county Fire Department, but also to help them make it out of dangerous situations alive.

While the department has never lost a firefighter to a fire, said fire Engineer Mark Machal, the training is invaluable.

"We're due," Machal said. "Much like California is due for a big earthquake, we just don't know when. But if we can be as prepared as we can and make sure we have the proper training, that will help save lives."

The training, which started a few weeks ago, focuses on several scenarios, including a simulation of a building collapse, learning how to make an emergency exit from a multi-level structure via a ladder, and helping rescue a firefighter during a fire where multiple fire companies are on scene.

"The training had been multi-phasic," said Beckers, "starting with a new fire ground accountability system to keep track of where we all are on fires, self-survival skills training and Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) training."

Many times firefighters have felte so autonomous that sometimes when they get into trouble, they ask for help when it's too late, said Machal.

"We have to train them to call for help and let those outside know where they are so if something does happen the RIC team can go in and rescue them," Machal said.

RIC teams should already be deployed to every fire, said Beckers, but the training is a way for the team members to become more proactive in making a burning building safer for firefighters by removing barriers, placing ladders at escape points and keeping track of where other firefighters are at all times.

More training sessions are planned in the next few months.