BY CURTIS RICE AND BRUCE CLARK
When considering training in an acquired structure, the first questions you should ask are, What type of training do we need, and how much damage can it cause to the structure? These questions will help you better focus your energy on finding structures to meet these needs. Not every type of training involves burning down a structure or cutting holes in the roof.
If your intentions are to do search and rescue or advance hoseline drills, limited damage should be done to the structure. If your intention is a full-scale drill with live smoke or fire, chances are that the building will have to be demolished because of the extent of the damage it suffered.
TYPES OF DRILLS
Generally, your drills will be one of three types.
• Nondestructive. This degree of damage would be expected with simple search or advancing hoseline drills, where you might damage a corner or put a dent in the wall, but not much more. This could take place in a structure that will undergo minor cosmetic renovations.
• Destructive. This could be anything from breaching walls to venting a roof. Generally, this would be in a structure undergoing a major renovation.
• Live Fire. This would include live-fire evolutions, which would result in heavy structural damage. This would be in a structure slated for demolition.
As you can see, the types of training determine what will be done with the structure after you finish your training.
HOW TO ACQUIRE STRUCTURES
Property owners wishing to demolish or do extensive renovations to their structures may allow the fire department access to train in these structures. Owners planning on demolishing a structure can be shown how much money they could save by allowing the fire department to burn it down instead. Burning down the structure leaves little debris to be hauled away, saving the owner money.
In many jurisdictions, you must get a permit to demolish a structure. It is usually the property owner’s responsibility to abate the hazardous substances, such as asbestos. The building department might advise the fire department when a permit for demolition has been requested, or you could do a records search to obtain the information.
Investors buy the property with the intention of selling it for a profit. This may involve demolishing the old structure and building a new structure in its place or doing a major renovation to the structure. Either way, learning who the investors in your area are can help you acquire structures for training.
Much the same as investors, developers buy complexes or buildings with the intention of demolishing the existing structure and replacing it with a new project.
Extensive Storm Damage
If you are in a region of the country that experiences strong storms, this may work well. It will depend on whether the insurance company has decided to pay to rebuild structures or pay off the owner and have the structures torn down. A building slated to be torn down will give you the most options, but you will want to make sure the building is structurally sound before doing any type of drills inside. In the case where the building will be rebuilt, time is a big factor. In most cases, the rebuilding will begin immediately, since the owner wants to get back in as soon as possible.
Check for property owners who have vacant properties or who owe excessive back taxes. If the local government agrees, you can have the back taxes “forgiven” in exchange for an agreement that allows the fire department access to train in these structures.
Vacant property may be used for nondamaging training such as search, hose evolutions, and ladder/aerial training.
If your municipality acquires property through eminent domain for future growth, this may be a way for your fire department to get access to structures for training purposes before they are torn down.
The “Ask for forgiveness instead of permission” approach is extremely tricky and is not recommended. It usually involves training in dilapidated vacant buildings without first asking for/receiving permission to do so. This generally is done in economically challenged areas. “I’m sorry; I didn’t realize we couldn’t train there,” may be all it takes. Of course, this will be followed by a pledge that you will never do it again. In our area, this doesn’t work. We would have to pay to rebuild the property-the claim would be that it was just remodeled and it looks this way because we destroyed it.
Rent a Property
For large-area training, rent a warehouse. Build the props you need. When you are done, remove them and move on. With the construction skills usually available in the fire service, it is possible to rent a house, complete your evolutions, and rebuild or repair any damage done. This is good for short-term or specific-area training so firefighters will not have to travel great distances.
Containers used by overseas shipping interests can be acquired, modified, and used repeatedly for many types of training, including live smoke and fire evolutions.
As with all training in structures, make sure it is structurally sound before doing any training inside. Verify that it will support the added weight of firefighters in full gear for aboveground evolutions.
Always follow all the requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions (1997), for live-fire training. In accordance with NFPA 1403, any building considered for a structural fire training exercise shall be prepared for the training evolution, including receipt of required permits and permissions. Written permission shall be secured from the owner of the structure. A clear description of the anticipated condition of the acquired building at the completion of the evolution and the method of returning the property to the owner shall be put in writing and shall be acknowledged by the owner of the structure. Even if your training exercise will not involve live-fire evolutions, use of the Live-Fire Evolution Sample Checklist and the Sample Release Form provided in NFPA 1403 will help ensure that you provide a safe and effective training experience■