Control burns serve dual purposes

Published 8:13 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2010

As the city looks at more than 30 properties that couldpotentially need demolition and clearing, the fire department mightjust have the answer.

Twice in recent months, members of volunteer fire departments inthe county have helped landowners clear buildings by burning them,which serves several purposes. While the homeowner ends up nothaving to pay so much for demolition, the fire departments getvaluable live burn training that really can’t be gained in anythingbut an actual fire situation.

Brookhaven Fire Chief Tony Weeks said his men have burned ahouse recently as well, but did not use it for training purposes.There are safety standards to meet, but if a home is stable, hismen can get a training session in much the same way the countydepartments do.

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“It’s got to be structurally sound, no holes in the floor,nothing that would cause undue danger,” he said. “In a regularhouse fire you can’t control that, but for the training exercises,there are certain standards to go by. If it’s something we can usethen yeah, we’ll get in there and do a few evolutions (trainingrounds).”

The most recent live burn training in the area was at 1245Pricedale Drive, where members of Hog Chain, Zetus and Bogue ChittoVolunteer Fire Departments gathered and worked on several differenton-scene lessons.

“It gives you a chance to train in a live environment, and totrain on several things at one time,” said Hog Chain Chief JohnHart. “You can train with other departments, work on your incidentcommand, we had pump training going on, there was interiorfirefighting, we did walk around training where we showed our guyswhat to look for, and we talked about the signs of different firedangers throughout the whole thing. These are things you can’t doon the chalkboard or with videos.”

Also, it acclimates firefighters to finding their way in anunfamiliar situation, said Zetus Volunteer Fire Chief DaleAnding.

“I can go to my house and shut my eyes and go anywhere in myhouse, but take someone who has never been there and blindfold themand go in the front door, two turns and they’re lost, and it’s hardfor them to find their way back out,” he said. “Add smoke and aburning house with furniture, couches, and coffee tables, andyou’ve got a dangerous situation.”

On top of that, Hart said, and more important to somehomeowners, the owner saves money on the demolition of the house -like in the situation on Pricedale.

“She would have had to pay for a demolition and a tear down, butnow she just pays for the cleanup, which will be a lot cheaper,” hesaid.

In addition, Hart pointed out, as long as the structure isstanding, the landowner is paying taxes on it.

“It doesn’t matter how old and decrepit it is, you’re stillpaying taxes as long as there’s a roof on it,” he said.

Lincoln County Fire Coordinator Clifford Galey said even if thestructure isn’t stable enough to train in, fire departments willstill stand by as a structure burns if an owner wants it burned.But if a structure is still solid, it can be used for trainingsessions.

“It might be partially burned, or maybe damaged from a treefalling through it, or the owner might just want to clean up theprop or build a new structure,” he said. “It’s a lot moreeconomical for the homeowner because it’s less cleanup but it canalso save space in landfills.”

And with city leaders watching the pocketbook constantly, aswell as landfills without a lot of space, City Building InspectorChip Genarro said the burning plan is a good one in the city aswell.

“I don’t see how it wouldn’t help costwise,” he said. “If youget the street department to tear it down, you’ve got a trackhoe, adozer, two or three trucks, operators for each one, and could runcosts up quick having to pay for each one, plus the cost at thelandfill.”

Galey said there is minor paperwork that must be done before afire department can just come in and burn down a building.

“The homeowner has to provide an affidavit that they own thehome and that there is no insurance on it,” he said. “At that pointit’s just a matter of getting together a meeting between thehomeowner and fire department and determine the safety factors anda time frame when it can be done.”

Meanwhile, Gennarro said it’s a possibility some of the problemproperties in the city could go up in flames by the end of it,too.

“It’s going to depend on where they’re located, and whether it’sopen enough where there are no other homes close by, or power lineshanging over it,” Gennaro said. “It would definitely help becauseit would cut down the amount on the lot, and you’d have just alittle pile. It would just the copper and brick and stuff thatdoesn’t burn, and instead of 10 or 12 truckloads going to thelandfill, you’d probably just have one.”