Midstate firefighters burn donated house to train in real-life situations

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Usually firefighters put out fires; Sunday in Adams County, they had to light them first.

“My husband’s doing a training,” said Amber Smith, who spread out with her kids on the grass outside St. Francis Xavier Church in Gettysburg Sunday morning.

Her husband, Brian, is a firefighter in New Oxford. She brought their kids to watch what their dad does.

“He always is like, ‘I got a call, I got to go,'” Smith said, “and we never where’s he’s going, when he’s coming home.”

That’s where training comes in. Family gathered outside the church all day to watch dozens of firefighting friends and family put out fires.

St. Francis Xavier donated a house, once used as the church rectory, to the Gettysburg Fire Department. They invited firefighters from departments across the Midstate to train in the house.

“We don’t get to do this very often at all,” said Edward Mizenko, a member of the Gettysburg Fire Department and a state fire instructor.

Crews filled the house with wooden pallets and hay, and set it on fire one room at a time. Teams went in to suppress the fire in the single room, and when it was controlled, they’d prepare and light fire to the next room, and new teams cycled in to put it out.

“It’s different than the practice I’ve had before,” said Vanessa Wagner, a Gettysburg firefighter. “It’s the first residential house I’ve been in. The only practice I’ve really had was in a concrete building.”

Those concrete training structures are common among fire departments. An actual house is a commodity, full of many of the dangers firefighters face every day.

“This is the real-life experience,” said Gettysburg firefighter Al Knerr, “because you’re using a real building that we would see in a real-life situation.”

“You know, your mind is going basically a mile a minute and you’re making split decisions constantly,” Mizenko said.

They’re decisions that need practicing.

“There’s really no way to explain it other than being in a real fire,” said Mizenko.

“It keeps him safe on the job when he’s there,” Smith said. “And so, I know that he’s going to come home safe.”

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