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Training burns can ultimately save other homes

 

Derek Montanio, Justin Martin, Tyler Moore and Jaquay Sherrod scope out their next steps in a controlled burn of a house on Fourth Street South in Columbus Thursday morning. City firefighters use condemned and dilapidated structures for training.

Derek Montanio, Justin Martin, Tyler Moore and Jaquay Sherrod scope out their next steps in a controlled burn of a house on Fourth Street South in Columbus Thursday morning. City firefighters use condemned and dilapidated structures for training. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Slim Smith

 

 

By 10 a.m. Thursday, the weather was almost perfect - a cool, clear sunny day with just a mild breeze. 

 

Everyone agreed: It was a wonderful day for a house fire. 

 

As nine firefighters from Columbus Fire and Rescue went to work setting, then extinguishing the old wood-frame house at the corner of 13th Avenue and Fourth Street South across the street from Friendship Cemetery, neighbors began to gather across the street. 

 

A half dozen folks pulled up lawn chairs to watch the CFR firefighters do their work, which from start to finish took about an hour. 

 

"We do this probably 10 to 12 times a year," said Battalion Chief Mike Gibson, who was supervising the Thursday's training exercise, deploying the firefighters to various assignments and making mental notes of their performance. "When we do these exercises, we are getting so much useful information on things like fire behavior, fire-fighting tactics, hose handling and pump operations." 

 

Had Thursday's fire been an actual emergency, conditions and the CFR's response to it would have been different, Gibson acknowledged.  

 

"In an actual call, we'd have a lot more people, probably 16 to 18, typically," he said. "But in a lot of ways, what we are doing here is very much like what we would do on a real call." 

 

Gibson said having 10 to 12 houses available each year to use for training enables the department to rotate its firefighters on the exercises. 

 

CFR Chief Martin Andrews said the structures his department use to perform these exercises are condemned properties the city has taken over through its code department. 

 

"I can't tell you how useful this is for our department," Andrews said. "Since we don't have a training facility, having the ability to use these condemned properties is the best training we can have. We are one of the few departments doing this in the state." 

 

In addition to providing excellent training opportunities for the firefighters, these fires serve the public in another way. Ironically, burning a house may save another house. 

 

"With cold weather approaching, which is the busiest time of year for house fires, these abandoned houses can be a risk," Andrews said. "A lot of times, homeless people will move into a abandoned house and start a fire for heating, That's dangerous." 

 

Those fires can quickly spread out of control, putting neighboring homes in jeopardy. 

 

"We are seeing a lot more of that now than we did 10 years ago," Andrews said. "Now, even on these training exercises, we have to take extra time to go through every inch of the house to make sure nobody is in the house."

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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