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Donated Building Offers Day-Long Practice for Firefighters

The Eagle Tribune via YellowBrix

June 24, 2011

LONDONDERRY — Firefighters had a chance to practice their skills yesterday during a controlled burn of a donated house.

The home at 32 Pillsbury Road was given to the fire department by a local real estate company to burn down and use as practice for fighting a real structure fire.

Capt. Jim Roger was the incident commander and organized the controlled burn. He said 40 firefighters from Londonderry, Salem and Litchfield had a chance to practice putting out a typical fire.

“What you’re seeing today is exactly what you would see in a real fire,” he said. “Our skills are perishable, so this is good hands-on experience.”

The firefighters are broken up into teams and assigned different tasks.

“The first group going in is fire attack; they work the hose to confine the fire to a small area,” Roger said. “That way, search and rescue can go in and find anyone still in the house. The ventilation crew is trying to keep the fire localized and stop it from spreading throughout the house, letting the heat and smoke out by cutting a hole in the roof and creating our own chimney.”

At the fire academy, everyone practices fighting fire in a concrete building, he said. But the home they used yesterday is more like the buildings in Londonderry.

“This house is what we’d respond to on a normal basis,” Roger said. “It’s an older house with a lot of plywood and it’s challenging. My hat goes off to Pillsbury Realty for their generous donation.”

John Michels, attorney for Pillsbury LLC, said the fire department approached company owner Michael Kettenbach to see if he would be willing to donate the structure.

“The house had been a dormitory for the workers that come up here in the fall to do (apple) picking,” he said. “It was not in very good shape and to repair it would cost a huge amount of money. There was nothing of historic value about the building and the fire department needed buildings to practice on.”

Capt. Doug Cardwell led one of the groups yesterday. He said the firefighters ranged in age and experience.

“We have a diverse group, with dinosaurs like us and the young guys who are like greyhounds and want to go chase the fire,” he said. “We have some high school interns with us today, too. They’re not fighting the fire, but they’re being paired up with experienced guys to go into the house.”

Kevin Barnett, 25, has worked for four years as a Londonderry firefighter and paramedic. He said yesterday was his second time doing this type of training.

“We’re going to go in on fire attack, find the fire and get it under control,” he said. “The hardest part is physical. It can be exhausting toward the end of the day after doing multiple evolutions. The fire is on the second floor and it’s coming out the back windows.”

Once the fire got going, Barnett and Cardwell’s group went inside with the hose and extinguished the flames that poured out of the back windows. Another group used a chainsaw to vent the roof.

Once the fire was out, the teams returned to the front yard, covered in ash and soot, to rest, drink water and prepare for the next fire that would be set in a different part of the house.

Roger said the day was a success, with eight different fires started and extinguished before the house was nothing but ashes.

“No one got hurt and no equipment got damaged,” he said. “We got in some really great work.”

Now that the house has been burned down, the property will remain vacant while Pillsbury LLC works on a 20-year proposal for a village housing complex on 650 acres of property behind the Londonderry Market Basket.


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