SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Smoke filled the sky above Calle Vista Place in San Luis Obispo on Tuesday. However, there was no emergency at the large single-family house that burned down throughout the day.
“Today is a cooperative live fire training event between SLO City Fire and CAL FIRE,” said San Luis Obispo City Fire Department Deputy Chief Jeff Gater.
The joint-training exercise was primarily intended for four new recruits recently hired the SLO Fire Department.
“We’re getting the best experience possible for them, actual live fire conditions,” Gater said. “We’re practicing structural firefighting tactics and techniques, including fire tac, ventilation, utility control, primary search and rescue.”
Starting at 9 a.m. Nearly two dozen firefighters went through three separate scenarios all meticulously planned over the last several weeks.
“It’s really great to this type of live fire training,” said recruit Joe Williams. “It doesn’t happen all the time. We’re getting to try out a lot of new things that we always don’t get to try and polish up some other skills as well.”
According to Gater, the opportunity to train at a donated home only happens once every couple of years. The home on Calle Vista Place was donated by Henrik Nielsen, who is planning on building a new residence at the site.
Nielsen, who owns several residences in the city, said he donated a house in Lemoore for fire training and saw first hand the valuable experience it gave firefighters.
“These trainings are important,” Nielsen said. “(I like) to give a little back to the department.”
Tuesday’s training coincided with the culmination of a seven-week long academy held for the new recruits.
“This is kind of the grand finale,” said recruit Patrick Larsen. “We’re putting everything we learned into practice and into play and we get to practice a lot of the skills on live fire that we’ve only been practicing in controlled non-fire situations, so it’s really important for us to be able to implement what we’ve been taught in a real live scenario.”
The recruits noted the training they received during the burn is invaluable to creating a rapport and chemistry with their new colleagues, so they’re comfortable and confident with each other when they’re soon sent to a battle real fire.
“Having an opportunity to work and train with the guys that you’re going to be working on the floor with, and get to understand the they operate and kind of the little details that they do things is really critical to get to know each other and have that kind of fluid dynamic when you’re on the real thing,” said Williams.
The training exercise was planned weeks in advance. Gater said several agencies were brought into the process to gain acceptance. He also noted the house was stripped down to make it as safe as possible during the seven-hour long exercise.
“We have to make the structure as benign as possible,” said Gater. “All the asbestos gets removed, most of the glass gets removed, anything that could contribute to concealed fire spread that all gets taken care of on the front end to make it as safe as possible. There is still some inherent risk due to what we’re doing here obviously, but a lot of the things that we encounter in real life, we’ve been able to take those off the plate.”
Before the burn, all neighbors were notified in advance. The fire department also made sure to reduce any negative environmental impacts in the surrounding area during the day-long event.