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Fire crews refine approach as farmhouse burns.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

LANCASTER - The movies have it all wrong. Firefighters do not charge into a burning house; the reality is much more sobering.

They enter a burning building on hands and knees dragging a fire hose with them, smoke obscures their vision as they search for the fire, safety gear restricts their movements, high temperatures from wearing the gear and the fire itself are debilitating, and the noise from radios, firefighters shouting, motion beepers, and oxygen pumping into their masks adds to the chaos of fighting a fire.

In Fire Chief John T. Fleck's 25 years of fighting fires, he has found that every fire is different.

"That is why it is so important to have training like this. Fires burn differently, and the more opportunities a firefighter has to experience firsthand what it is like, the safer he will be on an actual scene," said the Lancaster fire chief.

He was speaking during the controlled burning of a farmhouse on Lunenburg Road Saturday.

The Lancaster and Lunenburg Fire Departments held a joint training session for dozens of firefighters and emergency medical teams from both towns.

Eight crews rotated duties and learned the ins and outs of incident command, ventilation of roofs and windows, general attack strategy, back-up assistance, rapid intervention for rescue of trapped residents or downed firefighters, search and rescue, operation of hose lines and rehabilitation of firefighters on scene.

The farmhouse, also known as the Marble House, was considered a perfect place for a controlled burning.

"We looked at the design and construction of the house, conditions and location. Safety is the prime consideration in the choosing of a burn house," said Chief Fleck.

The Lancaster department shored up walls with extra drywall, installed a sprinkler system and removed any hazardous windows and materials.

The crews practiced training maneuvers with smoke machines in the weeks before the actual controlled burning.

"People think we just throw a match in, but safety is primary and everything has been planned to that effect," said Chief Fleck.

Two rooms of the first floor were used as actual burn rooms. Safety officers were stationed in the room, where piles of hay atop wood pallets were set on fire. Secondary exits were handy if the fires set by the safety officers got out of control.

Furniture was placed in the rooms to simulate actual conditions, and a dummy "victim" was left in unlikely spots for the search and rescue teams to find.

"Practice makes perfect. This will be the safest fire we've been to," said Lunenburg Fire Lt. Gregory Massak, a 30-year veteran.

Lunenburg Firefighter Thomas R. Wilson is 19 years old and has only been on the Lunenburg department for 7 months.

"I've trained with the (U.S.) Army firefighter service at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, but I've only done secondary search and rescue, shooting water from outside on a building, but I've never really got to go in and put out a real fire," said Firefighter Wilson.

"Your adrenaline starts pumping the moment you get off the truck, and all your training does click in," said Lunenburg Firefighter Christos J. Lekaditis, who has been on the force for two and a half years.

"The worst thing that can happen when you first get to a fire is people telling you that there is someone trapped in the building, you have no time to assess the fire, you just have to go in," said Lunenburg Fire Capt. James E. Ricci, a 17-year veteran.

Firefighter Wilson did get to attack a fire on a first-in crew, rescue a victim, get pulled out of rotation for a few minutes to re-hydrate and be re-checked for pulse and blood pressure rates and work the ladder truck detail.

At the end of the day, the medical tent was folded, equipment was packed up, and the firetrucks moved back. Firefighters opened windows in the old farmhouse, cut holes in the second floor and vented the roof.

All of the crews stopped what they were doing and turned to the farmhouse when the crackling of the fire started and flames began to shoot out of windows and doors. Going against instinct they just watched the house burn to the ground.



CUTLINE: (1) Lancaster firefighters use the deck gun during training. (2) Lancaster firefighters chat as fire consumes the farmhouse. (3) With the fire still burning, Lancaster Firefighter Tom Routhier lies down exhausted after a day of fire training.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 28, 2008
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