Burning down the house
Hands-on training for local firefighters
By James Card
The Weyauwega Fire Department torched an old farmhouse near the intersection of Railroad Grade Road and County Trunk U on Saturday, Oct. 2.
It was a rare training opportunity for firefighters to gain experience fighting a live fire under controlled and safe conditions.
The house was donated by Kevin Zeinert. His brother, Dale, a 30-year veteran of the Weyauwega Fire Department, lived in the house for a few years when he was a child.
“She’s ready to come down. She’s old,” he said.
Kevin Zeinert built a new house directly across the road and family, friends and onlookers gathered in his front yard and set up lawn chairs to watch the fiery spectacle.
Debbie Buchholz, in charge of the training schedule, said it is a long process to get approval to light up a building for training purposes. The building has to be free from asbestos and other hazards.
The cacophony of the training ground was a mix of nonstop walkie-talkie chatter, the ringing of low-air alarms from compressed air tanks, and the electronic chirping of personal alert safety systems, a device that beeps when a firefighter has stopped moving.
The training progressed room-by-room throughout the house. A two-man team of “firebugs” started a fire by using a hand torch and straw for tinder. As the flames built up, the other teams moved into place.
Rookie firefighter Lorelei Ponto scaled a ladder to a second-floor window and smashed out the glass with a pike pole while an attack team waited upstairs outside the door of the burning bedroom. It was her first time “venting” a room during a live-burn team exercise.
Opening the window allowed for the smoke to escape the room. With the smoke gone and better visibility, the attack team opened the door and blasted the flames with the fire hose.
This is huge,” said Gerard Knaus, a Weyauwega firefighter. “This is the best training you will ever have. There are a lot of young guys that need experience and this is the best kind there is.”
Some Waupaca firefighters also participated to take advantage of this training opportunity.
After all of the rooms were burned out and hosed down, it was time to test a new device called a Fire Suppression Tool.
A firebug ignited a blaze in the enclosed front porch and a fireman pulled a pin and tossed in the gadget, much like a soldier would throw a satchel charge into an enemy bunker.
Within eight seconds, the device expelled an aerosol mist that flooded the front porch and extinguished the fire by interrupting heat and oxygen molecules.
The grand finale of the morning was to let the house go down in flame. All equipment and trucks were moved away from the house.
At lunchtime the firefighters loaded up plates with burgers, chips and cookies and watched as the farmhouse slowly turned into a raging inferno. The smoke could be seen for miles away.
Fire prevention measures
“This is good training because we don’t have the fires that we used to — which is a good thing,” said Assistant Chief Brandon Leschke.
One of the reasons there are less fires now is because people are more better educated than in the past and have taken preventive measures in both residential and commercial buildings.
Tis live-fire training exercise took place during Fire Prevention Week. On Thursday and Friday mornings, the kindergarten, 4K and first-grade classes from St. Peter and Weyauwega Elementary schools will visit the Weyauwega Fire Station.
On Thursday afternoon, firefighters will visit the elementary school with the Smoke Safety trailer. Students will learn about firefighting and get to spray the fire hose.
On Friday they will have the same event at St. Peter. Students will also participate in a Fire Prevention poster contest.