Pa. Burn Building Deemed Unsafe for Training

One of the issues is the refractory concrete used in its construction.


July 31--ALTAMONT -- Since 1991, volunteerfirefighters were able to train at a "burn building" at the Schuylkill County Fire School, where real fires could be set.

On Tuesday, fire school officials were told by an engineering firm that the three-story structure isn't safe for live training anymore, according to Pete Damiter, a member of Friendship Fire Company No. 1, Englewood.

"They're not certifying our burn building," Damiter announced at the first "Schuylkill County Emergency Services/Municipal Leadership Summit" held Tuesday night at the fire school.

A total of 188 people attended, according to Frank J. Zangari Jr., president of the Schuylkill County Fire Chiefs Association and Girardville fire chief.

"So, our structure burn sessions at the fire school won't be held until we can come up with some money to do something," Damiter said.

The cost for a new burn building could be about $1.5 million, Zangari said.

The fire school is managed by the nonprofit Schuylkill Firefighters Association Financial Development Organization, and members are considering their options, according to Tom Slane, Tuscarora, a representative of the organization.

The fire school is in the 123rd Legislative District, represented by state Rep. Neal P. Goodman, Mahanoy City.

Goodman, who was at the summit Tuesday, suggested a capital campaign might be the way for the fire school to raise that kind of money. The fire school had conducted one previously, he said.

"And I think the way they did it last time was very successful and I think it might be a good starting point," Goodman said.

Since it was established in 1991, the burn building had to be inspected every five years, according to Jim Misstishin, the fire training officer for the City of Pottsville.

"That's part of the National Fire Protection Association 1403 standards for live fire training exercises," Misstishin said.

Recently, the burn building was inspected by a structural engineer, Roger M. LeBoeuf, vice president of Elliott, LeBoeuf & Associates Structural Engineering, Springfield, Va.

"Basically, when our building was built in 1991, it was considered a 20-year burn building, meaning it was expected to last that long. So in 2011, it was 20 years old," Misstishin said.

One of the issues is the refractory concrete used in its construction.

"These days, they don't use refractory concrete anymore for burn buildings. So that's one of the problems we ran into with this. It's wearing down," Misstishin said.

The fire school had conducted 25 to 30 burns at the building per year, Misstishin said.

Zangari said that's why it's important for the organization that manages the fire school to consider options for fundraising.

"And it's a requirement for our firefighters to study structural burn, which is a 16-hour class, to get certified as a Pennsylvania Firefighter 1," Misstishin said.

Anyone wishing to make donations to the fire school can send them to: First National Bank of Minersville, Attn: Schuylkill County Fire School, 260 Sunbury St., P.O. Box J, Minersville, PA 17954-0196

For more information on the fire school, visit its webpage at schcountytrainingacademy.com.

Tuesday's summit was an opportunity for fire and emergency officials to offer municipal leaders and state representatives insights into their skills and struggles.

In Schuylkill County, there are 67 municipalities and 110 fire stations, according to John M. Matz, emergency management coordinator for the Schuylkill County Emergency Management Agency, Pottsville.

The volunteer firefighter population is dwindling, Pine Grove Fire Chief David Sattizahn said. In the state, there were 300,000 in 1970, 70,000 in 1990 and 45,000 in 2000. In Schuylkill County, there are now about 2,350 volunteers, Sattizahn said.

Residents interested in becoming volunteers should contact their local fire station chiefs to discuss training, Zangari said.

"In general, a firefighter needs 222 hours of training to meet the requirements. In Schuylkill County, that training is covered by funding fire stations receive through Schuylkill County," Damiter said.

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