Firefighters burn houses to gain experience

Published 1:58 pm Sunday, March 11, 2007

By By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
The Chocowinity Volunteer Fire Department enjoyed a luxury Saturday. Firefighters knew exactly when and where the fire would occur because they set it.
Taking advantage of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to construct a U.S. Highway 17 bypass of Washington, the fire department burned one of two houses Saturday to train for when the real thing occurs.
The house took almost two weeks to prepare, Safety Officer David Fields said. It was gutted, holes were cut in the roof to ventilate smoke and the ceiling was covered with tin to prevent the fire from entering the attic. Then furniture was simulated using wooden palettes and straw, on which diesel fuel was poured to start fires.
To train, the firefighters set the house on fire, enter, douse the flames and do it all over again. By 1 p.m. they had already performed six entries.
The two houses were turned over to the fire department by the state to perform the training drills. At the end of the day, the houses will be burned to the ground and left for the state to clean up. The houses are located on N.C. Highway 33 at the end of Bragaw Lane, just east of the fire department. A bridge will be built there for highway 33 to pass over the highway 17 bypass.
The first priority in any call is to get all occupants safely out of a burning building, Peneley said. The next priority is to “knock down” the fire as quickly as possible, he said.
Three teams of three firefighters are involved in each entry. The primary team enters the burning house with a hose to locate and spray the fire. Behind them is the rapid-intervention team, basically a backup, whose duty is to monitor the primary team and to rescue them with another hose should anything go wrong with the entry.
Behind both is a safety team, watching over the first two teams.
Volunteer firefighter Andy Woolard had been in the house once by 12:30 p.m. as part of an overhaul team.
Asked to describe the experience of being inside a burning building, Woolard was at a loss for words.
Having the entire fire department out practicing begged the question: What would happen if a real fire occurred? Fields assuredly said that they “had it taken care of.” He said that in the instance of an emergency, he and all of his firefighters were prepared, at a moment’s notice, to dismantle the operation and respond to anyone in need of their services.