Friday, June 12, 2009

When firefighters burn houses down...

I try to keep my work from my blog--but this was an important lesson learned, equal to anything we study. My husband brought my children to view the charred remains of a home that had been burned down. However, I had had been there when firefighters from five different rural departments burned down the house that had been donated to them for training purposes.

I was surprised to not only be welcomed, but invited to witness ignition from the inside of the home. I was a little nervous, but I had a dedicated instructor by my side and an escape route planned out. I watched as the firefighters prepared to light the house on fire for the first time that day, but nothing prepared me for the smoke that came so quickly.

Smoke took seconds, seconds, to obliterate the view of the firefighters from upstairs. The smoke wafted downstairs making the lessons learned about dropping so obvious. The smoke that escaped into the lower level clung to the ceiling. It is this smoke that kills so many in fires. The departments' personnel made their way and broke a window for ventilation. Just as quickly as the smoke filled the upstairs, it dramatically cleared and allowed light to filter back into the level. This took minutes, but the fire lacked the fuel of everyday things we have in our homes. Can you imagine how much more quickly the petroleum based products would fuel the fire or how much more toxic the smoke would be?

I was in the house for a very short time, but I had to try to evade the smoke as it wandered around the room. I stifled some coughs, fully aware that at the first sign, I was going to be removed. I had a scratchy throat, but was okay the next day. The firefighters ignited the house specifically to extinguish the fire as many times as they could to allow each team the practice. Instructors helped explain ways to better their efforts.

They managed to get about five practice runs, before the house finally could not support any more. As they had prepared for another attempt, flames broke through the upper story and smoke billowed from the attic vents. Eventually, after confirmation that the flames had not been of the intentional kind, the incident commander gave the order for preparation for final burn down. The heat generated topped a thousand degrees and could be felt for a ways around the home.

Even after the decision to burn down the home came, fighters doused the flames at strategic points to maintain control. The black smoke is the house burning, the gray is steam from the water. Crews worked hours to safely burn the home. Homeowners are able to use the value of the home as a deduction from their taxes and in this case, allowed them to remove the home easily. It was kind of sad for me to see such a historic, limestone home taken down, but time marches on. Please review fire safety measures with your children and check your smoke detectors.

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