Trainee firefighters had the unique opportunity last week to visit several Northern Heights Street of Dreams homes being built in Happy Valley to help them estimate how much time they would have to save people and pets stuck in a burning house.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: BRANDON PAXTON - Clackamas Fire Battalion Chief John Oliver teaches firefighters about home construction at the Northern Heights Street of Dreams in Happy Valley.The training on March 18, taught by Clackamas Fire Battalion Chief John Oliver, allowed 15 new firefighters to enhance their knowledge of home construction by seeing the “bones” of buildings.

Clackamas Fire spokesman Brandon Paxton said that he and other firefighters appreciate having an in-depth understanding of how homes are constructed so they can make more informed decisions to keep both themselves and members of the public safe when fighting house fires.

Often when a structure is on fire, Paxton said, firefighters have to make decisions about whether or not to enter a building to search for survivors or to attack the fire from the inside.

“Having a good knowledge of how the building is put together will tell us a lot about how quickly it will fail under fire conditions,” he said. “If a building with lightweight construction has been burning for 20 minutes, for example, the period of time firefighters have to be in the building will be far less than in a building made with heavy timber based on estimated time until failure.”

Nine of the 15 firefighters attending the class were hired by funds provided by a $1.9 million federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant awarded Nov. 29. The addition of the nine firefighters will allow Clackamas Fire to increase staffing in the communities of South End Oregon City and Pleasant Valley, the southwestern and northeastern corners of the 178-square-mile fire district.

SAFER, a FEMA program, works to rehire laid-off firefighters, retain firefighters facing layoffs, hire new firefighters and recruit and retain volunteer firefighters.

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