December 19, 2014

SAFA eyes live burns for training

By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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STANDISH — Firefighters in the Standish Area Fire Authority (SAFA) may begin to receive more intensive, realistic training in the near future if the department decides to pursue a live burn program.

At the SAFA Board meeting on April 28, SAFA Chief Mitch Oliver said area property owners in the area have approached him about using their houses for the training exercise.

“We probably get two or three requests per year for this and we’ve just turned it down,” Oliver said at the meeting. “We’re considering it.”

According to Oliver, the training sessions would be monitored by a state fire marshall who would oversee the training sessions, which he said would increase overall scene control and accountability amongst firemen.

“If you’ve been around live scenes, it’s pretty chaotic. At a live burn we can slow it down,” he said in an interview April 30. “It kind of gives us the opportunity to fight a fire in slow motion. … We don’t have that opportunity on a live scene.

“Another huge benefit is getting a new firefighter at an actual fire.”

At the board meeting last week, it was announced the SAFA insurance would cover any health or safety issues that may occur due to the training exercise. Even so, SAFA Board President Jeff Trombley did voice some concern at the meeting, although he does say he’s not strongly against live burns.

“I do agree the training would be valuable,” he said, adding, though, that even with insurance coverage, there may be some more problems that could pop up. “I think it could open some liability issues we don’t need.

“AuGres’ (AuGres-Sims-Whitney Fire Department) doing it and Pinconning’s (Pinconning-Fraser Fire Department) doing it, my whole point was if the guys can get the training there, I’d like to see them do that,” Trombley said in an interview April 30. “He (Oliver) asked our (fire board) opinion and I told him what I thought.”

He added that ultimately, the choice to do the burns would be up to Oliver and SAFA’s training officer Bob Macaulay and either way it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Kurt Humerickhouse, Chief of the AuGres-Sims-Whitney Fire Department, however, says his department’s live burn exercises are different than the ones being pursued by the SAFA.

“The ones we have done in the past weren’t technically live burns,” he said. “We never physically set the house on fire and sent people into it.”

Instead, Humerickhouse says a 55-gallon drum full of straw is lit outside the house and used to fill the house with smoke.

“They (firefighters) get a whole new perspective when they go into a building that’s filled with smoke,” he said. “They go into the house with a hose and air packs.

“It’s good training. There’s no two ways around that.”

Unlike the AuGres department, though, the SAFA is looking at actually setting the houses on fire … eventually.

“It’s not going to be a ‘Hey can you come burn my house down?’ and we’ll all jump in a truck and go burn it down,” Oliver said. “We would use them for about a year.”

He added that prior to actually burning the house, other techniques, such as taking out windows and ventilating roofs could be performed and practiced on the houses.

Prior to a house being approved for a live burn, Oliver says homeowners must have a commercial inspection done on a structure to make sure it is clear of asbestos. He says requests to use houses for live burns usually come from property owners looking to rid a structure off a parcel of land.

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