A mutually beneficial opportunity between a local developer and the Verona Fire Department provided a training opportunity for firefighters, in a building about to be razed.
Forward Development Group of Verona had already planned to demolish four old apartment buildings on Avenue Topp to make way for new ones, but the company decided to first contact the Verona Fire Department to see if the department could use the buildings for fire training.
It was a rare opportunity, Fire Chief Dan Machotka said, which is why he invited a dozen other area fire departments to join as well, including Fitchburg, Oregon, Belleville, Brooklyn, Mount Horeb, Barneveld, New Glarus, Waunakee, Cross Plains, Black Land, Madison and Mazomania. Madison Area Technical College instructors and students were also invited along with Fitch-Rona EMS paramedics.
“MATC joining us was something new,” Machotka said. “We see a lot of value, we’re looking to adapt the way we do things.”
The Dane County Arson Response Initiative (DCARI) Fire Investigation Group also enjoyed and practiced collecting evidence, sketching photographs and documents, and practicing the camera to create 3D images of the building.
Departments mimicked the immolation of two upholstered recliners by igniting wooden pallets and hay bales on fire, which would achieve about the same British thermal units (BTUs) as a typical house fire, Machotka said.
The live burnings in the multi-unit buildings took place over six evenings. Each time, materials were thrown away and everything was re-staged. This allowed for a variety of different training, including horizontal venting and other types of venting and search and rescue procedures.
The various crews of the different departments took turns following their own individual formations – squad companies, engine companies, ladder companies and search and rescue teams. Each company has its own role, engine company attacks fire, truck company focuses on ventilation, etc.
Crews were sent out in waves, mimicking real live fire. In regular mock fire drills, where there are no actual fires, often only one team practices at a time. With live burns, departments can develop a full training scenario with interactions between different teams, Machotka said.
An exact replica of a real fire could pose a real danger to firefighters, so an outside crew monitored the building, spraying water on the eaves to prevent the fire from spreading to the attic.
The opportunity allowed a direct view of the evolution of fires, such as how airflow from an open door can fan flames.
“One of the scary things for us is watching the airflow,” Machotka said. “If the doors are closed, we have a much better chance of arriving in time to put out the fire.”
The ability to get close to real heat, smoke and flames is an essential part of training and certifying firefighters, teaching them how to effectively and safely fight fires in a controlled environment under supervision. which cannot be taught only in a classroom, Machotka says.
“The good thing about this training is getting closer to that real real fire and getting that excitement,” he added. “A live burn is a rare thing to do.”
The City of Fitchburg Fire Department participated in the training after being invited by the City of Verona Fire Department.
“The couple of structures they provided us with the most realistic conditions possible, with smoke as our firefighters would see,” Fitchburg Fire Chief Joe Pulvermacher said. “It was valuable training, there was a lot of information to learn there. We learned what went well and what improvements can be made.
Pulvermacher even had a few of its new firefighters at the blaze.
Although they had safety mechanisms in place in case the fire got too big too fast, it was still a real fire, presenting a real danger, Pulvermacher pointed out.
“I think one thing that needs to be said in this situation is that it’s not a safe environment, not a totally controlled environment, it’s as controlled as it gets,” he said. “So from a training point of view, it’s one of the most serious situations. There’s not a lot of jokes around an actual fire in a building. Fire is dangerous, smoke is Firefighters had to be on top of their game, using the same techniques and tactics they should have used in real situations, and they took it pretty seriously, as if they were responding to a real fire.