Seattle Fire training in Madison Valley

Recruits running through real scenarios in vacant home

Seattle Fire training in Madison Valley

Seattle Fire training in Madison Valley

The Seattle Fire Department is spending the last week of October setting fires inside a vacant Madison Valley house, so firefighter recruits can train for responding to real-life scenarios.

The single-family residence at 2711 E. Roy St. was already slated for demolition, to make way for new construction. Finding such a home, and a property owner willing to let the fire department use it for training, is rare.

“We look at the demo permits — online demo permits — and we start filtering from there,” said Deputy Fire Chief Phil Jose. Then they start making calls. “‘If possible, we’d like to do some fire training in your property,’” is how that usually gets communicated, he said.

The single story Madison Valley home is near two fire hydrants, and doesn’t require the closing of any major arterial streets, Jose said, making it an ideal candidate.

This type of training occurs twice a year, and allows firefighter recruits to learn about the nature of house fires and how to tackle them through various scenarios in a controlled setting.

The fuel source is controlled, as is the structure itself. Firefighters come in before each training and set the houses up, adding a layer of plywood and up to two layers of sheetrock on the walls.

“All the things you see burning is not actually the house itself,” Jose said.

The water and electricity are disconnected, and the donor home has any asbestos abatement completed prior to training.

Twenty-eight recruits were expected to complete about 16 scenarios between Oct. 29 and Nov. 2. Their 15-week academy training will continue just past Thanksgiving. Jose said the academy started with 34 recruits, but two had to drop out due to injuries, and four others were removed due to performance.

Once they complete the academy, the recruits will have a one-year probationary period, which includes credit for the four months they spent in training.

On top of the tests they take regarding department protocols and emergency response, recruits also need to memorize the city’s layout, knowing where to find Seattle’s emergency rooms and schools, Jose said, and then being able to write down from memory the routes they would take. Once the recruits complete their one-year probationary period, they will be assigned a district, and their knowledge of it will be tested.

The Seattle Fire Department’s average emergency response time is four minutes, Jose said.

SFD encourages people to make sure they have smoke detectors in their homes, and also to close their doors before they go to sleep. That can keep the temperature lower in the event of a fire, increasing the chance of survival, Jose said. So: “Close before you doze.”

Controlling airflow through open doors and windows is an important step in fighting fires, as is aggressively tackling fires with hose lines, so firefighters can get inside a home and search for occupants.

The Madison Park Times observed the second burn response on Monday, Oct. 29. Firefighters went to the back of the home, where they were met with a shuttered door. They initially struggled to pry it open.

Seattle Fire Lt. Mike Daigle said he would have advised the recruits to communicate that to command more quickly.

“The sooner they can do that, the faster command can react to that and get their Plan B,” he said, “and send their fire attack in a different direction.”

After they’d made entry into the house, removed the dummies that served as victims, and knocked down the fire, the recruits were debriefed on how the exercise went. Everything was put back in place, and they started all over again.