Training for the worst: Detroit Lakes firefighters burn derelict home
Detroit Lakes firefighters conducted a training exercise for their newest firefighters by burning a derelict home on Nov. 10 in Detroit Lakes, so the rookies could see how fire moves around a residential space. The home was going to be demolished by the city after falling into disrepair, but the homeowner arranged for the home to be burned for training purposes instead.
Once the home was fully engulfed, the heat from the flames was nearly unbearable from 50 feet away.
Detroit Lakes firefighters kept watchful eyes on the blaze as the structure collapsed so neighboring buildings and trees were never under threat from the controlled burn.
The house fire, conducted for training purposes on Nov. 10 near Highland Drive in Detroit Lakes, was the kind of real-life training event that Detroit Lakes Fire Chief Ryan Swanson said is extremely valuable for the newest members of his team.
"This, by far for live-burn, is the best training you can do," said Swanson. "We do get simulation trailers in from time to time, but at the end of the day, they are a like a truck container, it's four steel walls and roof, and it doesn't act, and it doesn't breathe, and it doesn't have the same feel as an actual house does."
Swanson said there were four training evolutions for his team before the house was left burning; eventually becoming a pile of rubble.
The first two were conducted in two upstairs rooms of the home where newly recruited firefighters were paired with the department's training captains and were able to watch, in full firefighting apparel and self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA), how a fire moves upward and around a room, which causes different thermal layers to develop and can pose dangerous circumstances for firefighting.
"They can watch it, how it builds up to the ceiling, how the fire walks across the ceiling, and then how it starts to push down and you get your thermal layers in the fire," said Swanson. "Level thermal layers are bad for firefighters, that's how flashovers happen … so they'll show the new guys how to control that situation."
The last two training evolutions were for the more experienced firefighters on the main floor. Fires were set and left to grow while the hose teams waited at the front door. After the word was given to engage, they needed to enter the smoke and fire filled main floor and extinguish the blaze that had been set.
"We're gonna light a room on fire, get it good and burning, hold them up at the door and then get them to go in so then they are really pushing that fire back and making an attack on it, and doing an advance on it," he said. "At the end of the day, everybody has a real job. We're professional firefighters, we're not career firefighters, so we need to train the new guys coming in so that when they get to that point, it's 2 o'clock in the morning and someone's house is on fire, they are confident and comfortable when they enter that front door."
Wesley Noel, a new Detroit Lakes firefighter, joined the department's ranks in June and Wednesday was his first live-burn training.
"It was neat to see the fire and the smoke kind of separate in there into layers," said Noel. "It was definitely different than what you read about, that's for sure."
Noel joined the Detroit Lakes Fire Department because he always thought about it when he was younger and, after getting a job in town, he thought now would be a great time to start.
"For younger people who have free time, it's a great way to get out and help the community," said Noel.
As rain fell throughout the evening, neighborhood adults and children alike watched from afar as the flames grew to more than 50 feet high. And, as the structure collapsed, cheers could be heard from the onlookers.
Multiple residents who live nearby said the house had been left abandoned for years and wanted the city to do something about the structure since they noticed a lot of undesirable behavior in the abandoned home.
One resident said they would find syringes and other drug paraphernalia in the yard, which is right next to where their children play. They also said every time they saw someone walking down to the end of the cul-de-sac where the abandoned house was, they new what they were going to go do in there.
Swanson said he hopes the kids watching the training house fire keep that wonderment and are inspired to become city firefighters when they get older.
"Most little boys always want to be a firefighter and then, for some reason, some of them grow out of it," he said. "The rest of us never grow out of it."
If you want to be part of the Detroit Lakes Fire Department, check out their Facebook page , or stop by the City Administration building for more information.
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