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Firefighters train as local home burns

'Burn to learn' event is a win-win situation
by: Sam Bennett, 
A Lake Oswego firefighter sprays water on a Jean Road house fire Saturday that was part of a “learn to burn” training exercise.

In a 'burn to learn' training exercise, Lake Oswego firefighters put out a four-bedroom home fire Saturday at 6135 Jean Road.

Twelve firefighters, as well as five trainers and safety officers, used the fire to learn about fire- extinguishing techniques and rehabilitating firefighters after battling a blaze.

'We used fire chemistry to help extinguish the fire,' said Peggy Halley, batallion chief. 'We let the water turn to steam, which helps put out the fire. Water will expand 1,700 times its volume when it turns to steam. We're trying to work smarter, not harder, because too many firefighters get beat up.'

She said the steam-use technique allows firefighters to control a blaze longer, so they can find possible survivors.

In the 2,000-square-foot home, firefighters started on the second floor and moved to the ground floor. In all, they conducted eight 'torches' or fire ignitions.

The live-fire exercise began at 8 a.m. and wrapped up around 5:30 p.m.

Three fire engines and one truck were used and firefighters tapped into two nearby hydrants.

The firefighter re-hab exercises included giving them food and water and have their vitals taken, according to Halley. 'Firefighters' core temperatures tend to rise after a fire,' she said.

Halley said she is frequently approached by homeowners who request the department use their homes for live-fire training. The department requires that the building have access to fire hydrants and have room for access for fire trucks.

In the case of the Jean Road home, the owner wanted the home razed in order to replace it with a commercial structure.

'It was a very well-built house,' Halley said. After eight torches, 'we let it go,' she said, referring to allowing the structure burn to the ground. Firefighters kept nearby trees safe, as dozens of onlookers watched from across the street.

'It went really well and was a great opportunity to get some good training,' said Gert Zoutendijk, Lake Oswego deputy fire marshal. 'Everything was done in a phased manner and nobody was injured.'

Such burn-to-learn exercises are regulated by the National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.