Yes, it was on purpose.
Mapaville Fire Protection District firefighters spent the day June 20 at the site of a house fire, but instead of fighting it, they planned it, set it and studied it, until not much more than ashes was left.
Firefighters from Mapaville and other area fire districts have been using the house, located on Hwy. Z not far from the district’s Plass Road headquarters, for training purposes for almost a year.
The house was in disrepair and the owner wanted to remove it, so he agreed to let the firefighters use it for training and then eventually burn it down, Mapaville Fire Chief Dave Brown said.
“The owner bought it off the courthouse steps,” Brown said. “He lives on one side (of the property), his son on the other. The house was uninhabitable when he bought it; he just wanted the property.”
Brown said he went to the homeowner to ask about using the house for training purposes, and struck a deal.
“I went and talked to him, asked about his plans for the place,” Brown said. “He said he was going to just tear it down. We signed an agreement in August, and we started right away using it.”
The first step was to get it ready for use as a training site.
“There was a lot of debris and trash in the home,” Brown said. “Woodard Fire Restoration donated (the use of) a 20-yard dumpster so we could go in and clean it out. It took us several days, and we took it down to bare walls.”
In the ensuing months, Mapaville and other districts took advantage of the opportunity to train in a real-world scenario.
“A lot of districts have a burn tower, but you’re limited to only class A materials like straw bales, that kind of thing,” Brown said. “Also, hose streams can damage the burn panels inside the tower. So you have to be careful. It is helpful, and you can learn a lot, but it’s not the same as a real structure fire.”
Some of the skills firefighters worked on at the house included breaching walls and ceilings; ventilation techniques; fire attack; and search-and-rescue techniques.
Mapaville has averaged about one training exercise per month at the site, and hosted a joint training exercise in December, headed by a St. Louis firefighter who taught advanced techniques.
“We had about 25 participants from all over,” Brown said. “We had firefighters from Hillsboro, De Soto Rural, Eureka, Goldman, Hematite I think.”
Once the district had gotten full benefit from the house, a final burn was scheduled for late June.
With help from the Goldman and
De Soto Rural fire protection districts, Mapaville conducted a controlled live-fire burn of the structure.
A purposeful fire, set under controlled conditions and carefully monitored, is a wholly different animal than one firefighters are trying to extinguish.
“The advantage of having a ‘real’ fire, one we’re not there to put out, is that it offers so many teachable moments,” Brown said. “Most of the time, we’re so busy on a fire we don’t have a chance to really study things like back draft, rollover, the changes in the color of smoke and what they mean.
“So, we could teach a lot of fire behavior we normally learn in books. We were able to sit back and say, ‘Look at that; watch this; here’s what happens next.’ It protects us and makes us better firefighters.”
Brown said the arrangement with the homeowner was mutually beneficial.
“It would have cost him a lot to have it torn down and the debris hauled off,” he said. “So it saved him money there, and it will save him at tax time.”
On Monday, following the burn, Brown sent a letter to county tax officials certifying the house was gone, so the property will be taxed as a vacant lot.
Brown hopes other property owners will make similar arrangements with local fire districts.
“The Department of Natural Resources dropped some of the regulations about open burning in March, so that’s how we were able to do this,” he said. “We’re looking for other properties.”
He said sites must meet certain requirements regarding safety, contamination, etc.
“If anybody has a property like that, I suggest they call their local fire department,” he said. “Even if we aren’t able to burn it, we can always use it for non-fire training.
“It’s real world stuff we can only get in a real situation.”