Monday, August 23, 2004

Training Fires(Controlled Burns)

Last Monday night, my wife was on a routine trip to the convenience store to buy items of convenience. Some 20 ounce sodas, chips, cigarettes, etc... On the way back she was shocked to see, a house on Lewiston Rd., engulfed in flames. She rushed back to the house. When she arrived, she was panicked and was rattling off something about, "a house on fire" and "I need to call 911" and "What if there are people inside?" She did call 911. Twenty minutes later, a 911 operator called back. The operator said, "Everything is under control. The fire you reported is what is known as a controlled burn. There are emergency services professionals on the site." As I usually do, I got to thinking. I started thinking about numerous items. Why were there no signs? Why wasn't there any flashing lights? What the hell is a controlled burn? I decided that I needed answers.

This morning, I sat down with Chief Ricky W. Boykin, of the Summerfield Fire Dept. At first, when I called on Friday, he seemed a bit hesitant to want to answer questions. He said he did not answer questions on the phone and wanted to talk in person. So we set up an appointment. It turns out, he was very informative and a great guy to boot. I asked what a controlled burn is. He told me, "It is actually called a training fire. A controlled burn is when we use tree limbs, etc.. These exercises are used to train our firefighters." The Summerfield Fire Dept. happens to be partly volunteer and partly enlisted firefighters. "What about regulations?", I asked. Chief Boykin answered, "Oh my, there are a ton of regulations that we have to obey to conduct a training fire. We need to obtain permits, check the properties asbestos levels, file an application with the state for demolition, check the ozone levels, and make sure that the area is not at an Orange level for dryness. That is just to name a few." I brought up public safety and signs. To which he responded, "We normally do put up signs to let the public know. We did not at that particular burn. We also have to try to keep the site free of citizens for their own safety. We don't like to draw too much attention." Signs and flashing lights could cause a bunch of people to stop and look, or put them in harms way. My concern was that a bunch of people could call 911 and tie up the lines. A simple sign or visible emergency vehicle could avoid that situation. People could get out and run to help, maybe try to be a hero. Chief Boykin tells me, "We wouldn't let them even get close." As far as the 911 calls, Chief Boykin said, "We have to notify emergency management about the training fire. They set up our communications on the site. Also, so they will know what is going on, in case people call in the fire." He invited my family and I to come check out a training fire in September. I will definitely go and watch.

I have to say, at first, I was pretty up in arms about there not being any warnings for the public. After I sat down with Chief Boykin, I was put at ease. I hope this story can better inform the public on what a training fire is, and that you should not panic if the real heroes are on the job.

Before 9/11, I really didn't appreciate firefighters and police officers. I was, in fact, living in the New York City area during that horrid event. Many great men lost their lives trying to help others they didn't even know. What an unselfish bunch of men and women. Every time I see photos or video of the firefighters from NY, covered in ash, or with their heads hung in disbelief, I well up and appreciate them a little more. Today, I appreciate our local firefighters a lot more. Thank you Chief Boykin for taking the time to sit down and help me understand what I had no clue on. I feel a lot safer knowing you and your men are there to protect me and my family.

There are some cool photos of training fires at the Summerfield Fire Dept. website. Check them out at:
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