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House burns provide training

ABOVE: An instructor sets fire to some straw while a student waits to put it out Wednesday evening during a controlled burn at a house in Elmore.

ELMORE– Members of several area fire departments participated in a controlled burn of a house in Elmore on Wednesday night.

Fairmont Fire Chief, Bryan Kastning, said they try to do two burns a year. Kastning has been fire chief since December 2021 though he’s been with the department for 15 years.

On Wednesday six people participated in the burn as part of their 1001 class. The last thing to be done as part of the training is the house burn. There were two students from Elmore and one each from Dunnell, Truman, Welcome and Ellendale.

Safety and Security Consultation Specialists (SASCS), which is based out of Mountain Lake, brought in the instructors to do the training.

Also on scene Wednesday was Truman Ambulance and Swea City Fire Department which brought a back up pumper and a tanker to use so that all of the equipment wasn’t take out of Fairmont. South Central Rehab was there to check the vitals of those who came out of the burn.

“It’s quite the production,” said Kastning.

One of the trainers with SASCS was Fairmont Fire Department member, Roger Carlson. Carlson has been with the department for 47 years. He estimates he’s taken part in somewhere between 300-400 burns.

While Carlson is an instructor with the SASCS he’s also done training through other organizations, which has all led up to the high number of burns he’s participated in. He explained why the controlled burns are an important part of the training.

“We don’t have many structure fires anymore, not as many as we used to. So a lot of firefighters don’t have a lot of exposure. This is the closest thing we can get to a real fire,” Carlson said.

During the training, pallets, straw or cardboard is torched, which results in what Carlson called a “baby fire.” They can’t burn what’s in a house like a couch or recliner.

“One recliner chair has the same number of BTUs (heat output) as 60 to 80 pallets. All we burn in a room is five or six pallets so the fire is not nearly what it is in a real situation,” Carlson said.

First the students were in the house when instructors started a fire so they could watch how it developed.

“They do a mist and knock it back,” Kastning said.

Later, a fire was started while the students were outside and they entered to put it out. Three of the Fairmont Fire Department members participated in the burn as well.

“When the new guys are done, our guys go in as practice,” Kastning explained.

Right now the Fairmont Fire Department has 29 members. Kastning said that 32 is full and that they’ll be hiring again this fall. It’s a paid on-call position.

“We train the first and third Wednesdays of the month for two hours,” Kastning said.

In addition to practicing in the burn, throughout the year there are other drills, including one through Middle Nine Mutual Aid.

At the end of the night, the house was burned to the ground. Not only does the burn allow students and department members to train, but it’s a good way to get rid of houses that need to be demolished.

Carlson said it ends up being cheaper to have the house burned all the way down to

ashes rather than have the house knocked down. Either way, an inspection needs to be done. For the burn, a permit is obtained through the DNR.

Kastning said they don’t have anymore houses scheduled for burns this year but they’re always looking for one.

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