by BETH ALTENA
‘It’s very dangerous, but everything is under our control,” Courtland Township Fire Chief Mickey Davis said of training practices that use old homes slated for demolition. Davis said members of his department, along with Rockford, Algoma, Cedar Springs and Cannon fire departments participated in one burn the morning of Saturday, July 20.
Passersby may have been alarmed to see flames licking from the farm home on the east side of the road between Eleven and Twelve mile road. According to Davis, members from all five departments took turns going in in groups to put out fires within the residential property.
Davis said the burns are strictly controlled for safety. Organizers must follow National Fire Protection Association guidelines, including only using paper and wood to build up the flames in the fires. Davis said practice burns used to use liquid accelerants in the starting of fires within structures but that practice has been prohibited after firefighters lost their lives. Davis said fires using liquid accelerants are extremely hard to predict and fires can spread much more quickly than intended.
In preparing to burn a structure, Davis said the homeowner has to sign plenty of documentation, proving there is no insurance on the building, exempting the department from damage to the property and spelling out that the owner is volunteering the building to be burned down.
Davis said all participants are required to go through the structure several times so they know what to expect when entering the building. “There is a lot of accountability,” Davis said. Safety officers from each department are also on site making sure safety precautions are followed.
A neighbor talked to fire fighters during the practice and Davis said he leaned some of the history of the home. The farm house sits on ten acres and was moved to that location years ago. It formerly was on property across from Bell Furniture, he said. He stated that the owner was anxious to have the building destroyed and the negotiations took a couple of months until the green light was given for Saturday’s burn.
In addition to offering valuable training, such planned burns allow local departments to familiarize themselves with fellow fire fighters, their behavior during fire fighting and each other’s equipment.
“Usually during a fire when we ask for assistance, we show up, put out the fire and leave,” Davis said. “This gives us a chance to get to know each other and talk.” He said it is also important to take the time to make sure the departments in an area are using equipment that is compatible.
“We don’t want to show up at an assist and not be able to hook up with each other’s equipment,” he stated.
Davis said in his many years fighting fires he has probably seen everything, but each fire is unique and unpredictable. He said of the thirty or more fire fighters who attended the event, many came up to tell him the practice was valuable and that they appreciated the training. “Everyone learned something,” he stated.