FREDERICKTOWN — Spending a Saturday working inside a burning house is not what most people would consider the ideal way to spend part of the weekend, but 18 Fredericktown Community Fire District firefighters arrived before daylight Saturday morning to prepare to do just that.
The house at 19697 Knox Lake Road, right on Knox Lake, owned by John R. Sparks, had been heavily damaged by a fire on Nov. 25 of last year. Because the house could not be salvaged and needed to be demolished, the fire department arranged to hold training there before burning it to the ground.
Fires were set inside different rooms in the house, giving firefighters the rare opportunity to experience real-life training conditions which most said gave them more insight into the way fires spread and behave during different conditions.
Fire instructor Ken Lybarger was inside the house monitoring the fire, and giving direction to the firefighters as they crawled under the worst of heat and smoke, and sprayed water on the fire.
Probationary firefighters Corey Fearn and Adam Schlosser said the real fire conditions taught them things about fire no classroom experience could.
“When you’re inside you can actually learn how to use spray patterns,” Fearn said of the practice he received using a hoseline inside.
“We learned what the smoke does inside and how fire fingers roll,” Schlosser said when he came out of the burning house.
Firefighter Matt Brokaw explained the characteristics of the smoke coming from different parts of the house. The darker smoke chugged from the hottest parts of the fire, while the areas where firefighters were spraying water became lighter and less turbulent.
Once the inside training was completed, and the firefighters were all outside, the fire was allowed to take over the house. “See where that smoke there is rolling like a tornado,” Brokaw pointed out. “That’s where the fire is the hottest.”
Lybarger explained how firefighters can tell from the color and behavior of the smoke when they arrive at a fire, what is going on inside the house.
As brown smoke rolled from the attic, Lybarger said that this would tell firefighters there was low oxygen in that area, and they would need to cut holes to allow the smoke and dangerous gases to escape.
“We call that puffing,” he said pointing at the dark smoke forcefully spitting from the eaves. “Smoke that color, like that, means we would need to ventilate.”
The firefighters also learned about the behavior of the flames.
The room on the northern side of the house could be seen through a window opening filling with dark smoke and gases. In the next room, the fire rolled and reached toward the ceiling and other rooms.
“When you see those fingers start reaching down and the smoke’s that dark, you can get a flashover,” Lybarger explained outside.
As flames built their intensity inside, Lybarger and fellow instructor Heath Kempton said the temperature was climbing well over 1,000 degrees.
Flames rolled along the ceiling in waves. “Most rollover happens around 1,200 degrees,” Lybarger said. “The guys got a lot of heat.”
Fire Chief Scott Mast said the extreme heat was part of the training. “We had several new members that were able to experience high heat and high fire load characteristics,” he said of the inside exercises.
Mast said the opportunity to train inside a house with live fire, was one the firefighters all benefited from. “It’s rare to have a house in this good of condition, to be able to burn and simulate real-life issues,” he said. “Today’s training was a great opportunity to experience live fire conditions.”
While the homeowner stood outside watching the fire destroy what was left of the two-story house, he tried to look toward the future. “I’m going to build a log cabin here,” he said as the 1855 house he had lovingly restored gradually disappeared.
Sparks is a retired woodworker who had cut the hardwood trees used for the trim he hand-milled. “I cut the cherry for that stairway 13 years ago,” Sparks told firefighters as flames climbed up the center stairs.
Sparks said he has been staying with family, and the leveling of the house will provide him with the opportunity for a new start.