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Burning down the house: Olive Hill Fire Department holds training session

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 Firefighters don’t get too many opportunities to test their skills in a burning building where they know they don’t need to worry about finding occupants, or getting the fire out before it spreads to neighboring structures. It’s just not every day you get someone willing to give you a house to burn. Even rarer, though, is the number of permits to purposely burn a home granted by the EPA each year. 

Olive Hill was lucky, fire chief Jeremy Rodgers explained, to get one of those permits for a recent training exercise. 

It gave his crew, and crews from other local departments, time to practice, hone their skills, and if necessary to obtain certain certifications. In fact, the opportunity for state fire instructors to receive their certifications drew folks from as far away as Lexington and beyond.

“The house was a recent purchase by an individual here in town, and they were going to tear it down to put up some newer housing,” Rodgers explained. 

Instead, though, they approached the fire department about using it for training and Rodgers began the process. To get the permit there are several things that must be done. The home has to be inspected to make sure it doesn’t contain asbestos or other hazardous materials. All the shingles have to be removed from the roof and other materials that might add noxious fumes to the mix must be removed from the home as well. 

But before any of that, the Kentucky Fire Commission has to grant approval. Rodgers said he started there. 

“It actually worked out two-fold for us,” Rodgers said. “The Kentucky Fire Commission was in the process of starting a new, internationally accredited certification for live fire instructors. They needed to be able to test instructors, and we wanted to have the same type of training for live fire, so we were able to combine both into a couple of evenings.”

Rodgers said the instructors came from Lexington, Georgetown, Ashland, Carter County, Rowan County, and Scott County. Students came from Grayson, Olive Hill, and other surrounding communities. The students received their training while the instructors were graded on their ability to properly present their training. On the night before the burn instructors were tested on building prep, to make sure they had properly prepared the home for the training the next day. 

“Before we can do anything, we have to have asbestos testing,” Rodgers explained. “So that was completed for us, and no asbestos was found. Then you have to remove products like carpet, linoleum, the shingles had to come off, stuff like that. That’s set by the state environmental protection and air quality folks. So that was part of their testing; Do you know how to prep a house?”

He said it also helps his firefighters because they learn a lot of building construction information they may not get in intact homes, but that can help firefighters understand how a fire moves through a structure. 

This knowledge and experience can prove crucial in other situations, Rodgers said. 

“Building construction, knowing how the building is, number one how it’s laid out, how it’s built… as firefighters, helps you understand flow path, air movement, fire dynamics, how the fire is going to effect the structure, and how the structure is going to effect the fire,” he said. 

But while they learn all of that by being in a burning home and seeing how it moves through an emptied building, it wasn’t what they were technically being trained on. Rodgers said his crew was, “learning how to properly move a hose line… and how a fire grows… so they were learning several different things there.” 

They also learned how to properly fit and wear their gear, which while important, can easily lead to overheating. It’s why, between groups, firefighters stripped gear, cooled off, hydrated, and had their vitals checked Rodgers said. It’s also one of the reasons that EMS were on site, which Rodgers said he appreciated.

“Director Loperfido has always been good to support the fire departments and send ambulances,” he said. “If we have a structure fire on an average day, they send an ambulance, and they’re there until we release them.” 

“It’s a major undertaking,” he said, but it was “absolutely” a success. 

“It was 100 percent successful,” he said. “As far as the certification piece went for state instructors, they were very happy with the results they got and how it went. And the students were all extremely happy with (the training), because it’s something you don’t get to do a whole lot of. You can’t just go around and burn houses at will. There is a lot of work to get to where you can, and then a lot of work to do it… so it’s not something you can turn around and do every other day.”

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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