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Winterville fire department burns to learn

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Winterville Fire Chief David Moore directs firefighters during a live burn training event on April 6, 2019. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector

Monday, April 8, 2019

WINTERVILLE — Residents who looked out their windows on Saturday morning may have spotted something more ominous than gray skies an a rain-splattered landscape. 

A large stream of smoke rose from Winterville’s downtown area, where crowds of firefighters congregated.

But not to worry. The fire was deliberately set, as the  Winterville Fire Department and others participated in a live burn training exercise on Main Street. 

Multiple fire trucks, and nearly 50 firefighters from the Winterville Fire Department, Winterville Community Fire Department, the Red Oak Fire Department and the Pine View Fire Department worked to simulate situations they may face when responding to a call. 

“Periodically as the year goes on we have houses provided to us by people who need them demolished,” Winterville assistant fire chief Tony Smart said. “They allow us to perform what we call, ‘live fire training’ or ‘acquired structure training.’

“This is the setup we typically use to train our firefighters under controlled circumstances to give them a real world feel as to how it is to suppress fires in an actual circumstance,” Smart said.

Groups took turns extinguishing fires from each room of the house, under the watchful eye of supervisors such as Smart. The house was lit on fire using a combination of gasoline, hay bails and wooden pallets.

As each room was set ablaze and then extinguished, smoke poured from the house, creating a blanket over downtown Winterville. Onlookers stopped by to watch as the departments continued into the afternoon. 

The training not only gave valuable experience to newer firefighters, but allowed veterans to polish their skills as well. 

Taylor Moore, a firefighter with Winterville Fire-Rescue, has firsthand experience with uncontrolled fires. Moore joined the department in February, after three years with the City of Rocky Mount Fire Department. 

“There’s adrenaline pumping (when a room is burning), but it’s all about our training,” Moore said. “Sitting in there and watching the fire grow, we can watch different flow paths and learn different things about fire development and building construction. It’s a good training tool.” 

As the groups worked their way through the house flames roared through the pre-destroyed windows, at times shattering the glass due to the heat. Flames also made their way up the house and through the roof, those were extinguished thanks to crews outside the building and water from the top of a Red Oak ladder truck, keeping the flames from catching on a nearby tree. 

“Even though we’re using live fire, these live burn events are as controlled and realistic an environment as we can make without it being the actual thing,” Winterville Deputy Fire Chief Tony Klontz said. “Our number of fires are down nationally. We don’t fight nearly as many structure fires as we did 30 years ago, so we have to use these old farm houses, burn them, and train the next generation of firefighters coming up.” 

Klontz is a 10-year veteran of the Winterville Fire Department. 

Smart said he believes that live fire exercises are a critical piece in training new and future firefighters, providing real-world experience in using the tactics and skills learned in the classroom.

“There’s no replacement for hands-on or live-fire exercises,” Smart said. “We speak through the classroom, we work in our classroom but there’s the theory and the science that goes along with it and the practicality of the real world as they’ll see it every day.”

This was the first live burn exercise the department has held this year. The last such exercise took place in August 2018.

Contact Jake Keator at jkeator@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.

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