About 200 central Ohio emergency responders will have had an opportunity to train in Gahanna by the time 10 homes are demolished along South Hamilton Road and Rocky Fork South this month.
Training began June 28 and will continue through the end of July at the former residences being razed to make way for Ranger Development's Shops at Rocky Fork.
The homes are at 390 Rocky Fork Drive South and 361, 353, 345, 331, 325, 317, 311, 303 and 297 S. Hamilton Road.
Mifflin Township Fire Chief Tim Taylor said he has never been involved in a training opportunity of such a large scale during his 32 years in the safety service.
"We've never had 10 houses," he said. "We've had four or five. This is providing invaluable training to multiple agencies."
He said he anticipates at least 150 firefighters and 50 law-enforcement officers will conduct training at the structures, including those from Clinton Township, Columbus, Columbus State Community College, which offers an EMS/fire science program, Gahanna police, the Jefferson Township Fire Department, Mifflin Township police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Plain Township Fire Department and the Whitehall Division of Fire.
Taylor said the homes are being provided for training as a courtesy to other safety responders.
He said firefighters are performing rescue and escape drills and are setting controlled fires in one room at a time before the final burning of a house and extinguishing the blaze. Real smoke and fire training, which amounts to about 10 percent of the overall training, is occurring on the weekends only and involves only one structure per day.
Homes along South Hamilton Road were being used July 2 by the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Special Response Team, an elite unit of highly trained troopers who handle situations such as barricades and incidents involving hostages.
Sgt. Brandon Cruz said the full-time SWAT team comprises 29 individuals from throughout Ohio, including 15 who were able to train in Gahanna in one day.
"We utilized a building for tactical entry and exiting," Cruz said. "We used it for how we search houses and practiced shots fired inside the home. We had guys here from as far away as Toledo. We'll continue to come on a weekly basis as long as the opportunity is available, coordinating with the fire division."
Cruz said a SWAT team tends to cause damage, so it's rare to receive an opportunity to train at buildings that will be demolished.
"It opens up the gamut for our training," he said. "It's a great opportunity."
Taylor said the homes were prepared for training by taking anything synthetic out of the structures, including carpets and wallpaper.
"We took them down to the base floor, removed windows and replaced them with wood," he said. "We will control the flow of air through the homes."
Taylor said residents sometimes call the fire department, offering a home for training purposes.
"We don't burn a house just to burn it down," he said. "It has to be suitable for training. It has to have been livable, recently lived in. If it's structurally unsound, we won't put people at risk."
He said the 10 structures will be used in a highly controlled, safe environment.
"We won't burn if conditions aren't favorable," Taylor said. "I'd like to thank the public for being supportive. It ultimately benefits them. In the meantime, they put up with the inconvenience. We're trying to be good neighbors while doing it."
Taylor said the location of the homes for demolition is laid out perfectly in regard to available fire hydrants.
"We don't have to disrupt traffic," he said. "The driveways in this community are also rated to hold fire trucks."
While each fire division is training individually, Taylor said, multiple organizations are working together.
"We're working toward a common goal and developing professional relationships," he said. "You have guys exercising their skills and abilities and getting confidence with equipment and each other while collaborating with others."
By the end of July, Taylor said, 84 Mifflin Township firefighters will have been involved in the training in one way or another.
He said the public is permitted to view the training from the sidewalks across the street at Hunter's Ridge shopping center.
All training is being conducted between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and is weather-dependent. No fires occur on days when the weather would produce smoke low to the ground or when winds would blow smoke directly into neighboring homes or businesses.
The Gahanna Planning Commission on March 26 approved a final development plan, certificate of appropriateness and variance application for the Shops at Rocky Fork.
The final development plan includes 12 parcels on 3.555 acres at 295-361 S. Hamilton Road for redevelopment from single-family residences to a neighborhood, commercial mixed-use district.
The project comprises three buildings with a total of 27,012 square feet.