Jessica Prokop

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November 2, 2013
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Douglas County District No. 2 firefighters practice on somewhat controlled house fires

A column of smoke filled the sky Friday morning, as practicing firefighters took turns battling flames inside a vacant house south of Roseburg,

Douglas County Fire District No. 2 firefighters trained Friday and Saturday at two empty houses in the 2200 block of Old Highway 99 South.

Three teams, a total of 25 firefighters, officers and students, rotated through the house.

The exercises focused on skills, such as observing fire behavior, operating a fire engine, and entering and searching a building.

Five firefighters at a time entered the building. Each crawled through the burning structure to find and extinguish fires.

“We have to be a well-oiled machine, so to speak,” fire engineer Mike Merlino said. “Once we are in there, you never know what you will get. The atmosphere is controlled a little bit, but there’s just the same amount of danger.”

Merlino led one of the crews Friday. He’s participated in at least two fire training exercises a year for the last 18 years, he said.

Firefighters had the advantage of walking through the houses before the fires were lit to see the layout, Merlino said.

Fire Marshal Josep Pedrola said he and other officers watched the flames and roof of the house to make sure it wasn’t sagging.

“We teach the backup team to resist the temptation to hit (the fire) from the outside when there is a team inside,” Pedrola said. “The conditions are the same as a real fire. Somebody panicking, trying to pull their mask off their face or not listening to an officer can have serious consequences.

“The smoke in a training exercise is still toxic. We want our guys to have confidence in putting an air mask on,” he said.

The windows of the house were boarded up to make the fire burn hotter and more controlled. The boards only had screws at the top, however, in case firefighters needed to push them open to escape, Pedrola said.

The firefighters, before the training drills, went through different scenarios.

“It’s a time where we can see their weak points and where training needs improvement,” Pedrola said.

Firefighters carry about 60 pounds of equipment.

“It’s essential being able to do it, physically, rather than thinking about it,” said Kyle Valley, a student in Umpqua Community College’s fire science program.

Valley said he wasn’t nervous for the drill. “I was more excited than anything. I knew I had good guys behind me to show and tell me what to do.”

Five students from UCC’s fire science program and four firefighters who recently completed their one-year probation period with the district participated in the drills.

Friday’s fire did not last as long as crews anticipated. Firefighter Brian Parnell and Lt. Josh Wagner cut holes in the roof to see where the fire spread and discovered flames in the attic. All of the firefighters were pulled out of the house, by early afternoon, in case the roof collapsed.

Crews spent the rest of the training session dousing the fire from the outside, until the structure burned to the ground.

Fire crews try to conduct as many exercises as they can, but depend upon the availability of no longer needed buildings, Pedrola said.

The two houses burned Friday and Saturday were donated by Lone Rock Timber, which planned on demolishing them anyway, he said.

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The News-Review Updated Nov 5, 2013 04:14PM Published Nov 6, 2013 10:39AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.