Fairfield house to be burned for firefighter training

Union photo by Andy Hallman

The home at 50 South Eighth Street in Fairfield will be burned on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 9.
Union photo by Andy Hallman The home at 50 South Eighth Street in Fairfield will be burned on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 9.

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield residents should not be alarmed when they see flames coming from the house at 50 South Eighth Street on Saturday. The Fairfield Fire Department is on it.

The Fairfield Fire Department received word Monday that it may proceed with a controlled house burn at 50 South Eighth Street, starting at 8 a.m., on Saturday, Nov. 9. Fairfield Fire Chief Scott Vaughan said no structures are close enough to the home to be in danger of catching fire.

“You’ve got Family Video to the south and Subway to the east, but the house is a long way away from everything,” Vaughan said. “That’s what makes this a good spot. We’ll have a fire hydrant right there we can hook to.”

The home’s owner, Shea Barber, approached the fire department about letting it use his abandoned house as a training exercise for putting out fires. Vaughan liked the idea, since the department has never conducted a controlled house burn in Fairfield before, and he thought it would provide good experience for his fellow firefighters.

The fire department received permission from Fairfield City Council, and had hoped to burn down the house on Oct. 26, but some paperwork with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources was delayed, pushing the date to Nov. 9. The DNR must test the home for different forms of asbestos, once a common electrical insulation that has since been outlawed in many countries (though not the United States) because inhaling it can cause lung cancer. Vaughan said the DNR’s asbestos test of the home showed it was safe, meaning the planned burn could proceed.

Vaughan said Barber has already notified the neighbors of his intention to burn the house, which should finish around noon that day. After the house has been burned down, Barber will fill in the basement with rock and prepare the land for something else.

The fire department will conduct training exercises in the house before burning it down completely. Vaughan said the firefighters will put a couple of straw bales in a corner of the house and light them on fire. The firefighters will practice a search-and-rescue mission as if they were rescuing a person trapped in the house.

The firefighters also will practice how to find the source of a fire even when confronted with a smoke-filled room where visibility is poor. Vaughan expects to practice ventilating a house, whereby firefighters open a hole on the roof to allow the pent-up heat and gas to escape. This can be beneficial for firefighters inside because it can give them a more stable atmosphere, but it also feeds oxygen to the fire, which can make it spread quickly. Vaughan said that whether to ventilate a home or not during a fire depends on a number of factors.

Once the firefighters have done all the exercises they want to do, they’ll let the house burn to the ground, while having hoses ready to spray water on the fire if it gets out of control.