Delaware city firefighters don't put out many house fires these days, but they made up for it Aug. 28 and 29.

City fire Capt. Jim Oberle said firefighters were given the use of a vacant house on Troy Road near Smith Park -- likely built around 1901 -- to ignite for training.

Delaware spokesman Lee Yoakum said the property had been sold, and the fire department was contacted by the property buyer's agent, who asked if the department was interested in using the house.

"We always like to take advantage of these opportunities, because live training is so much more helpful than artificial settings," Yoakum said. "Sixty (city) firefighters trained over two days on the structure, using various scenarios like smoked rooms, second-floor exterior access, fire inside of walls, etc."

The training culminated with the house being burned to the ground the afternoon of Aug. 29.

That's a detail that often appeals to owners of older buildings, Oberle said, because the cost of demolishing the structure is greatly reduced.

Before that happened, however, the department set about a dozen fires in individual rooms and ran the drills needed to extinguish them, Oberle said.

The fires were set, he said, with wood, straw and flares. Accelerants such as gasoline weren't used.

Each blaze was set to match the conditions of a specific scenario -- one that was unknown to the participating firefighters when they entered the house, Oberle said.

"It was all surprises, just like at a real fire," he said.

Also like an unintentional fire, he said, were the thick smoke and lack of visibility, the heat, and the challenges of navigating a house and communicating by radio amid the sound of a roaring blaze.

The firefighters welcomed the opportunity, Oberle said.

"It's like going to football practice all week and then it's game time Friday night. There's a great deal of enthusiasm," he said.

"We didn't conduct it as if it was for new recruits. We ran it as if it's a fire that happened tonight," he said.

"We did a post-training critique each day ... to go over what we could do better and guide our future training. ... There were areas we excelled in. There are always areas we can work on."

The training affected more than the firefighters, Oberle said.

City police closed a section of Troy Road during the drill, and Delaware City Schools officials rerouted school buses to accommodate the training.

"A lot of people were involved in making it happen," Oberle said.

It had been about two years since live fire training had been conducted in the city, he said.

Burning down a building is almost always the property owner's idea, Oberle said, but the fire department won't be interested unless certain criteria are met.

"Before we agree, we walk through the house and look at the property to make sure there is training value and not a risk to the community," he said.

For example, the department isn't interested if the nominated building is close to other houses, or if smoke would drift to a nearby school or nursing home.

He said the department also enlists the help of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the building contains no asbestos, a dangerous carcinogen.

If asbestos is found, the property owner must hire a certified private company to perform an abatement, after which an EPA inspection makes sure all asbestos is removed, he said.

A house used for live fire training also must be in moderately good condition, Oberle said.

"If the floors are gone, if it's falling in, if the roof is coming down, there's no training value. It's common sense," he said.

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