Donated house aids fire and rescue training

By Katie Demeria

EDINBURG — Firefighter Smith was not responding to command’s calls.

“Firefighter Smith, do you copy?” was repeated over the radio several times, without an answer.

Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue firefighters strapped on their equipment — which weighs about 80 pounds each — and entered the smoke-filled house, where visibility was virtually non-existent.

Training Officer Bill Streett, though, was inside the residence already.

“I’m not going to answer,” he said as yet another call for Firefighter Smith came over the radio from command. “That way they’ll get a little anxious down there.”

Firefighter Smith is actually a manikin dressed in firefighting gear, sitting on the building’s second floor with his legs hanging through the floor, as though he fell through.

“And it’s not really far off from what actually happened,” Streett said. “My foot went through that exact spot.”

When Streett nearly fell, though, the flames in the house had been very real, and he was able to free himself quickly without alarming other rescue workers on the scene. That was in January, when fire severely damaged the 780 Stoneburner Road residence.

The owner, Frances Stoneburner, 80, lives in Ocean City, Maryland. She has owned the residence since the late 1970s, gaining it as an inheritance from her late husband’s family. She has rented it out ever since then, but after the fire, she decided to donate it to the department of fire and rescue.

“I just thought it would be a good idea to help out the community in any way I could,” Stoneburner said. “I’m happy I could help.”

The training, Streett said, is called rapid intervention training.

“It’s what we do in the event that we have a firefighter who either gets lost or disoriented, or possibly gets into a situation in which they cannot get themselves out of a house fire,” he said.

Similar donations are usually made to the department every two to three years, Streett said, but this house is rare in that, despite the fire damage, it is structurally sound.

This allows for more thorough training in which firefighters can go to the second floor, work their way through a maze Streett built, and finally find the downed firefighter.

It is a good example, he added, of a house in which certain safety tactics, like closing doors at night to prevent fire from spreading, are evident. Some rooms were entirely destroyed by flames, but others look like they were not damaged at all.

“It also has a balloon frame construction,” he said. “Nothing stopped the fire from burning between the floors.”

Shenandoah County firefighters have never had a situation in which a crew member was caught inside a burning building. But, Streett said, they want to be as prepared as they can possibly be in the event that such a situation does arise.

Fires can quickly disorient a firefighter, he pointed out, testing their ability to work through their situation both mentally and physically. The smoke in the building is incredibly thick, and the weight of the gear and heat from the fire can become overwhelming.

The training, Streett said, will allow firefighters to better serve Shenandoah County residents.

“It’s just a unique situation in that the fire department spent this time and energy trying to save a piece of property, and then was able to get it back to better those capabilities,” Streett said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com