Firefighters in Ill. Get First Live Fire Training in Years

July 31--MINOOKA -- These days, burning down abandoned homes is a rarity for the Minooka Fire Protection District.

This is unfortunate for Minooka firefighters, as the old, often condemned houses make a perfect training ground. Crews ignite the homes in a controlled setting and spend hours fighting flames, performing simulated rescues, practicing search techniques and much more.

But finding homes has not been easy for Minooka, and 2006 marked the last time the department was able to acquire a local training house -- that is, until Wednesday when the department organized its first house fire exercise in eight years.

"It's important to train them in as real-life of a scenario as you can, and you can't get any better than this," Minooka Deputy Fire Chief Brad Sprague said during Wednesday's exercise.

Wednesday's training was one in a series of exercises at an abandoned home on Canal Road in Minooka. The exercises last for about three hours per day and are scheduled to end Friday.

More than 20 firefighters from Minooka, Plainfield, Channahon and Troy participated, rescuing dummies, searching through smoke, breaking through walls and perfecting their fire-attacking technique.

Sprague said the department spent months planning for the exercises -- obtaining permits, prepping the house and coordinating with other departments.

"All of our departments respond together, especially in Minooka, Channahon and Troy. If any one of our departments get a fire, the other two are automatically coming," Sprague said. "So these trainings help us get more familiar with each other."

When fire crews are finished, there will be nothing left of the 50-year-old home but a pile of ashes and debris.

"What's left will fall into the basement," said Tim Nance, Illinois Fire Service Institute instructor and Plainfield firefighter. "We'll set the fires up so the home will fall in and not out."

The Canal Road home was recently donated to the department by local property owner Gerlinde Borgers.

The Borgers family lives in Channahon, but Gerlinde Borgers said they plan to build a new home on the Canal Road property in years to come. To build, the family needed to demolish the existing house, which was built in the early '60s and has been abandoned for several years, Sprague said.

"The property taxes for the land are higher when the house is on it," Borgers said. "And another thing, we didn't want people breaking in and getting hurt so this will get rid of all that."

Years ago -- when Minooka was expanding in size and growing more industry -- property donations came much more frequently and the department was able to host regular trainings throughout Minooka, Sprague said.

This year the department will host two more trainings after this week's is concluded, at recently acquired houses.

Sprague said the department plans to acquire several flood-damaged homes along Minooka and Tabler roads. The homes are part of a buyout program instituted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency which requires the homes be demolished.

"It's sort of a win-win for the homeowners and for us," Sprague said.

In 2006, during Minooka's last local training, three firefighters were injured due to equipment issues, an incident Sprague and Nance remember well.

Wednesday, the crews made sure to install safety ventilation hatches throughout the house before the training started and followed all of the safety requirements outlined by the National Fire Protection Association.

But Nance said performing trainings now will ultimately make it safer when crews have to tackle a real fire.

"When we come together and do stuff like this, when it comes to the real thing -- it's just going to go a lot smoother and safer for everyone," Nance said.

Copyright 2014 - Morris Daily Herald, Ill.

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