West Pierce Fire and Rescue (WPFR) got a chance to do some live fire training on a real house in University Place on May 11. The residents at 326 Oas Dr. W. kindly donated their house to the fire department in an effort to provide an opportunity for firefighters to hone their skills in as real an environment as possible.
“Entering a burning building is an extremely hazardous part of a firefighter’s job,” said Jenny Weekes, community and media relations manager for the WPFR. “And while we are dispatched to approximately one fire call per day, obviously not all of them turn out to be a fully involved, working fire. Having the opportunity to go into a controlled environment and practice and hone their skills will only make them ready for the next large scale incident.”
Because the WPFR must abide by strict rules and regulations in determining houses fit to practice on, training burns are extremely rare.
“Training burns have environmental, demolition and hazardous waste abatement regulations that must be followed,” said Jay Sumerlin, training chief of the WPFR. “This, along with internal requirements, limits the amount of structures that are available to train on.”
Sumerlin also noted that residents interested in donating their house for these burns must go through a rigorous process to determine eligibility. “Citizens wishing to donate a home for the fire department to train in have to meet all of the legal requirements that the city or county place on demolition of the structure. In addition, the building will be evaluated by an officer in the Training Division of West Pierce to determine if it meets our requirements to train in. West Pierce will only burn one or two acquired structures per year, depending on budget and availability of structures.”
The May 11 training burn was divided into two shifts throughout the day. The morning shift consisted of members from Engine 23, Engine 31, Ladder 21, Medic 31 and Medic 21. The afternoon training session was of members from Engine 22, Engine 24, Engine 20, Medic 20 and Medic 22. At the end of the training sessions, the fire department safely allowed the house to burn to the ground. During these trainings, firefighters and rescue personnel trained on smooth bore nozzle attacks, low pressure/high volume fog nozzle attacks, ventilation techniques, fire behavior and crew integrity skills. “All of these skills are essential for firefighting,” explained Sumerlin, “and it’s a great opportunity to practice them in a live fire situation, rather than simulated without live fire.”
Yet perhaps the most important lesson of all that these training burns teach is firefighter safety. “It is imperative to us that everyone goes home after their shift,” said Weekes. “Trainings like this allow us to train properly and come in contact with scenarios that will prepare firefighters to make sudden decisions on a real fire scene, which could truly be life or death. We appreciate the community’s patience and support as we do this, because we do understand it can disrupt them while we perform a burn like this.”
The West Pierce Fire and Rescue District covers 31 square miles and serves more than 90,000 residents. The department ran 15,904 calls in 2016, which is a 2.8 percent increase from 2015. Call volume has also increased 20 percent in the last five years. And with summer just around the corner, the WPFR created a page on their website regarding the rules around outdoor burning here: www.westpierce.org/resources/outdoor-burning. There will also be a page dedicated to the rules and regulations of each city in regard to Fourth of July fireworks in the last week of June.