Of the Baker City Herald

One of the best ways to train firefighters is to set an old house on fire and then let them knock the fire down.

Over and over again.

Thats how firefighters from five area departments spent their Saturday morning, continually igniting and then extinguishing a fire at an old house on Community Connection property, 2810 Cedar Street.

Theres no better training than this, Baker City Fire Chief Tim Frost said as he watched yet another two-member crew enter the houses burning living room. We could sit in the classroom all week long and never learn what we learned today.

Five departments Baker City, Baker Rural, Sumpter, Powder River Rural, and Keating Rural sent a total of about 40 firefighters to the training session. Instructors Cliff Hall and Tom Everson, lieutenants with the Baker City Fire Department, were inside to offer guidance as an attack line of two firefighters and a back-up line of two more were sent into the smoke-filled inferno.

Theres always a danger using live fire, Frost said. Theres a whole lot more science to fighting a fire than simply hosing things down. Backdraft conditions are a worry. You make it as controlled a situation as you can, but theres still a lot of realism.

Saturdays session helped fire districts in more ways than one, said Keating Rural Fire Chief Buzz Harper. It gives the seven members who attended from his volunteer department experience dealing with a real fire, and it helps to build teamwork among area departments.

This gives us a chance to work with our mutual aid friends, he said. If something big were to happen, these are the people wed be responding with.

Once each crew had opportunity to enter the house which, devoid of furniture, was stocked throughout with wooden pallets for ignition purposes firefighters set the house on fire one last time, but then let it go, sticking around for mop-up purposes. What remained this morning was the foundation, which will be hauled away, Frost said.

Nobody got hurt, and we got some good experience, Frost said this morning.

Last month, Baker County Seniors Inc., a non-profit group that owns the house, approached the Baker City Fire Department requesting that the house be burned as a training exercise. The exercise will have at least one more beneficial result, said Community Connection county manager Mary Jo Carpenter: the groups bus barn, now currently housed at the Baker County Fairgrounds, will be moved to the corner of the lot where the house once sat.

The planned move is on the agenda for Wednesday Baker City Planning Commission meeting. Community Connection must obtain a conditional use permit to operate the bus barn on its property.

Community Connection also plans additional parking on the property, Carpenter said.

It makes the property better, and it makes us easier to find, she said. Baker County Seniors tried to sell the house, but nobody was interested. They salvaged what they could, and now everybody benefits.