Firefighters feel the heat in training exercise

Live burn in Salmon Creek gives crews chance to practice fighting actual blaze

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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As a volunteer firefighter with Fire District 6 for the past three years, Lanny Kipp has responded to one small fire. So he said Wednesday's training, his second live-burn training exercise, was very beneficial.

"We've done this training in mock situations," Kipp said, glancing up as smoke billowed out of the top of a two-story Salmon Creek house. "But this helps you tie all the aspects that you've already learned together. It makes it all real."

Volunteers and career firefighters from the agency practiced their fire attack and ventilation techniques by conducting a controlled burn, taking turns setting fire to the house, then putting out the flames out.

The residence was one of two houses in the 900 block of Northeast 149th Street that are owned by Clark County Public Works. The structures will be demolished as part of the 10th Avenue improvement project, which will widen the road to include bicycle lanes and sidewalks. The project also includes building facilities to collect and treat stormwater. Crews will set fire to the second house during another training on April 9.

Law enforcement made use of the houses, as well. The regional SWAT team conducted tactical training in one of the houses earlier this month.

Kipp said that the biggest difference between mock training and live-burn training is the pace.

While on top of the house, ventilating the fire pressure from the roof, a firefighter said over the radio that the fire had started breaking out on another area of the roof. The new flames had the potential to trap the crew had it gone unnoticed.

"You have to be aware of your surroundings," he said. "That's why you have guys on each corner, in case something looks out of place."

Washington law requires fire departments to do live-burn training once every three years, but Clark County fire crews do them more frequently.

Because 90 percent of fire calls are medical in nature, fire trainings like these are important, said Capt. Ryan Reese.

"This is more like the high-risk calls that we don't respond to all the time," Reese said. "It's an educational burn. We're looking at fire behavior, different kinds of smoke, different types of ventilation. It's a great opportunity to share our knowledge."

With 14 years experience, Reese said that the trainings also keep him fresh by reminding him of the various tactics used to thwart the flames.

Also, he said, "There are new tactics being shared all over the nation. We'll try them and find out what works and what doesn't."