The brick house goes up in flames as the Chatfield Fire Department allows the abandoned building to burn to the ground.
The brick house goes up in flames as the Chatfield Fire Department allows the abandoned building to burn to the ground.
The Chatfield Fire Department was given a valuable opportunity recently when Chatfield area residents Mike and Sue Schild asked the firemen to burn down an abandoned brick house on their farm.

A controlled burn of this nature allows the fire department to create situations that provide a learning opportunity for its men.

Fire Chief Keith Bradt explained that the training portion of the burn consisted of five revolutions of interior attack.

"There were a lot of other things we did with the pump operation, hose laying, accountability, communication and more," Bradt said. "There's a lot of training that goes hand-in-hand with interior attack."

He added that he likes the newer members of the department to have experiences like this rather than having to learn in a crisis situation of a live fire.

The Chatfield firefighters forged into the burning, abandoned brick house on the Schilds' farm west of town on Monday, Oct. 28, rehearsing for the possibility that the department is called to a house fire sometime in the future.

The Schilds wanted the fire department to have the old house for training purposes. It also allowed them to have the structure removed from their property, opening up land next to their new home.

The chance to use a real house for training is a rare thing, according to Bradt. "Mike approached me about a year ago. We wanted to get this done in 2013, before it got too cold. We don't get to do these very often, but it's nice to do it when we get the opportunity," he said. "There's learning that you just can't duplicate in a normal training situation. We just don't have the place to do it, so we like to take the opportunity if it's at all possible and use it."

The late 1800s-model house had been abandoned for quite some time. It would have needed extensive work for a person to be able to live in it. Its condition and its three-course brick cladding made it an ideal choice for use in a practice burn.

"We started the fire in the interior walls and the staircase from the basement - which went all the way up to the third floor," Bradt explained. "You get a chimney effect, especially with these old houses, because they don't have the fire stops that newer houses have."

He added that it doesn't take long for a fire to get to the attic if it starts in the basement. This situation gave the Chatfield firemen the opportunity to learn how old houses burn. The firemen also do training in building construction for additional learning opportunities.

Because the derelict house was clad in brick, there was an advantage to the firefighters, though the oven-like atmosphere posed unique challenges.

"It did hold the heat in and that helped protect the other house. Also, because there were only four windows on that side, that helped, too," Bradt said.

The brick also presented dangers that aren't as inherent with stick-built homes. Whenever brick buildings catch fire, there is a possibility that it will collapse. The firemen surrounded the area with yellow tape one so no one could go into that zone.

"We had to make sure that nobody goes into that area, because once we started burning it, the bricks could cave," Bradt added. "In a normal house, the wall could fall, but it isn't as likely."

Bradt and his crew had to engineer the safest way to burn the old house without scorching the Schilds' current home. They used hoses on the perimeter that were connected to a "wall nozzle," or an adapter that creates a wall-like spray.

"Once the wind went in the right direction, it was perfect," Bradt said.

The crew was able to set up the wall nozzle and experience how it works at the majority of fires, what kind of water it takes and what water pressure it needs.

"There's a lot of learning that goes into that," he added.

Protecting the Schilds' house was not the only matter at hand while setting the farmhouse ablaze. The department had originally scheduled the practice burn for Monday, Oct. 21, in cooperation with the Fountain Fire Department, but high westerly winds forced them to delay until this past Monday. Had they chosen to proceed as planned, the risk of embers blowing into town was great.

The firefighters made the most of the experience. They went into the house five times, breaking windows to let the fire draw air, which allowed the house to burn to the ground. The firemen stood back to watch the flames devour the roof.

Three and a half hours later, the department declared the drill a success as the tinderbox collapsed into itself and eventually left only parts of the outside walls remaining.

Bradt is pleased to cite the department held three training events within a week's time and the firefighters complete at least 36 training sessions per year.

"We're continuing to do the pre-planning of the commercial buildings downtown and will be at that for a long time, but we're making some headway with it," Bradt said.

The department is also continuing its training with the grain bin equipment. At the end of November, some of the Chatfield firemen will be attending special training in Alexandria.

"We want to be able to do something if we need to get someone out of a grain bin," Bradt concluded. "We're working on our normal training and we try to always have something in the works. It's a real huge commitment for these guys and we have a very good department."