By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN Smoke filled the air around 472 Babcock Blvd. in Delano in the morning and early afternoon of Oct. 31.
Firefighters from Delano, Montrose, and Watertown took turns entering the house located there. The purpose was for training.
“The first two drills are what we call level three drills,” Delano Fire Chief Bob Van Lith said. “We light the fire and have the truck and crew come pulling in, go in and put the fire out.”
Then, the firefighters conducted level two drills.
“You light it, go inside, get the guys in, board up windows, and try to create different scenarios inside to get them to experience them so they recognize different things so they don’t get themselves into problems. You stay in there and watch the fire, then knock it down. We rebuild the fire and get another crew in there.”
These drills followed three training exercises that took place in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 31 controlled burn.
One such exercise trained the firefighters how to create ventilation to prevent the creation of balls of fire known as back drafts.
“To try to control it and not get back drafts, you need to ventilate and control the atmosphere in the house,” Van Lith said. “Smoke is unburned gasses. When you have heavy, black smoke in a structure, it’s basically gas floating around. If you get the right air mixture, you get that back draft inside a room. It can hurt a firefighter. You ventilate to try to control the atmosphere in the house and prevent that.”
Firefighters also practiced search and rescue missions.
“We had them outside and put a mannequin inside some place. We had it all smoked up. They came in and had to search to find the victim and get them out,” Van Lith said.
It’s also important for firefighters to know how to get themselves out of a house if something goes wrong.
“If you’re inside and you get trapped in a room, you break through a wall to get to another room,” Van Lith said. “First, you call for a mayday, meaning you’re in distress, and try to give your location. You keep communicating to let those outside know what you’re doing so they can come and get you. You try to get yourself out instead of just sitting there and hoping they find you.”
Before the trainings could take place, several steps had to be followed.
First, the department needed to hire someone to do an environmental study on the property.
“They look for asbestos, lead paint, some kinds of calking or putty in windows and flooring,” Van Lith said. “Anything that doesn’t meet the requirements, you have to have it removed.”
Permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources are required before a burn can take place.
An action plan and site clean-up plan are also required.
Part of the action plan was having Montrose firefighters on hand to help handle any calls that came in during the training.
Another part of the action plan would have required the department to postpone the burn if there was more wind. The wind that was blowing was not ideal, as it blew smoke toward the highway rather than the industrial park, but otherwise, the burn went off without a hitch.
And the training benefited everyone involved.
“It’s very valuable,” Van Lith said. “It went well and we got some good training out of it.”