Burning Down the House

Burning Down the House

Recruits for the Fairfax County Fire Department got some real-life experience at a donated house in Vienna.

<bt>Residents of southeast Vienna may have noticed a billowing column of smoke and the presence of about half a dozen fire trucks and emergency vehicles last Thursday, as the 116th recruit class for the Fairfax County Fire Department repeatedly burned and extinguished the house at 205 Mashie Drive as a training exercise.

"We were going to remodel it at first, but we decided it would cost more than it was worth," said Dennis Rice, president of JDA Custom Homes, the company that owns the property. He said he had seen the fire department running the exercise at another home in Vienna a couple of months ago, so when the company decided to demolish the house, he called the fire department. "They really desperately need houses to do this," said Rice.

"It's invaluable for them to be in a real house with a real fire," said Jill Young, master technician for the fire department. She said firemen start each fire by stacking hay bales and wooden palettes in a corner of the house and lighting them with a flare. The house was lit and extinguished about eight times.

Fireman Ralph Pisani explained that each crew goes into the house three times — once to fight the fire, once as backup for the fire-fighting crew and once to perform search and rescue. Each crew also takes a turn putting holes in the roof for ventilation.

For most of the recruits, it was their first time in a real burning structure. "The fire was nice and hot, and it was rolling right over us," said recruit Nicholas Basil, who described his crew's experience as "very organized."

Lt. Patrick Kelly said the house would be left standing and would probably be demolished in the next day or two. "We used to burn them to the ground, and people thought they'd use us to get rid of some of their demolition costs," he said. "That's not what we do."

Anyone willing to donate a house to the Fairfax County Fire Department can call the department's Acquired Structures Program at 703-631-8182.