Lansing Fire Department offered opportunity to burn local home for multi-purpose training exercise

Unique training opportunity for Lansing Fire Department ... Members of the Lansing Fire Department take a moment for a photo before implementing a live house burn training exercise at a house located at 1151 Westgate Drive in Lansing Saturday, October 21. The house was being razed for future development opportunities and the property owners offered the house as an opportunity for the Lansing volunteer crew to further their training and experience. Pictured above as the home begins to burn are: Left to right - Front row: Kenny Johnson, Troy Hill, Tony Becker, Steve Darling. Back row: Jamie Rasque, Conrad Rosendahl, Chandler Quirk, Ben Verdon, Nick Hammell, Joe Manning. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

Learn from the burn ... The house located at 1151 Westgate Drive in Lansing was used by the Lansing Fire Department as a live house burn training opportunity on a rainy Saturday morning, October 21 before the house was completely dismantled and cleared from the property for future development. Department volunteers were able to use the burning of the home to train in smoke-filled space rescue and firefighting, along with a number of other firefighting techniques for both interior and exterior situations. Surrounding photos by Julie Berg-Raymond.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

About two dozen people stood out in the rain one recent early morning, Saturday, October 21, to watch members of the all-volunteer Lansing Fire Department burn a house to the ground.
Firefighters call the exercise a “live house burn.”

It was a spectacular situation to witness - the disintegration of a building, as clouds of black smoke rolled from windows and tongues of flame consumed a long-standing structure with impossible speed; and plenty of cameras were on hand that morning to capture the event.
More importantly, it was an opportunity to witness friends and neighbors in this small town of Lansing practicing to do the work of everyday heroes.

Chief Tony Becker, a member of the Lansing Fire Department for 12 years and chief of the local department since 2013, said the department was offered the opportunity to burn the house for practice by new owners of the property. The house, located at the west edge of town across State Highway 9 from the Scenic Valley Motel, had been determined to be unsalvageable - although windows and other remnants had been taken away for repurposing, before the burn.

“We went to the property two times (before the burn), to assess the situation and develop a plan,” Chief Becker said. “We were originally going to ‘smoke it up’ in the basement, and practice a basement fire.”

The volunteers decided that would not be safe, for structural reasons; so they opted to put hay bales in the living room - so the men could see what it was like to perform their duties in a smoky house. Once they’d practiced putting out the flames with fire hoses, they applied diesel fuel to materials in the open garage, to complete setting up the burn.

Becker said this burn situation was a unique one, because the house’s windows had already been knocked out. The crew knew there wouldn’t be time to do a practice rescue once the fire began taking on oxygen through the empty windows. Once that was under way, the firefighters stood aside while the fire consumed the house. Finally, when the fire had burned itself out, they dismantled the only thing left standing - the house’s chimney.

As they watched smoke billow from the house, more than a few civilian onlookers remarked that it took “a special kind of person” to do what these men were doing - and what they are prepared to do every time they take a call. For Becker and his crew, though, it’s mostly a matter of “giving back to the community in a positive way.”

“We’ve got a great group of guys who are very dedicated,” he said. “We’ve got some youth - young guys who have moved back or have come to the area for the first time, and who have stepped up to answer the call to serve the community.”

The firefighters are required to put in 24 training hours per year, aside from regular meetings and calls. They do 12 exercises during the year, two hours each time. They are trained in CPR, Firefighting I and Hazardous Materials Operations (HAZMAT Ops) - which prepares them to analyze, plan and implement performance-defensive response actions for hazardous materials incidents.

Becker notes it’s not only the firefighters, themselves, who make sacrifices for their work. “Their kids do sacrifice a lot,” he says. Games and other activities are missed, for example, if calls come in and dads are called to duty.

“Every summer we have a picnic, where the families get together and we can reward the kids.”

In fact, Becker said the men on his crew are like family to him. “There’s a brotherhood, a camaraderie that plays a part in why I do this,” he said. “I’m very close to a lot of the guys and their families.”

His own family is a big part of why he chose to serve on the fire department, as well. His uncle, Kenny Becker, was a firefighter with the Lansing Fire Department for more than 30 years; and his grandfather, Glen Connor, was fire chief in the 1950s.

“I had good examples of people in my life who served others,” he said.

Ultimately, Becker’s reasons for serving on the fire department come down to one thing: It has to be done.

“In the smaller towns, the numbers are dwindling,” he said. “I’m glad there are people willing to do it … I always hope that if that were my house burning, or that were my kid in the car accident, there’d be someone there to help. It’s a lot of hard work, but someone’s got to do it.”

The biggest fundraiser of the year for the all-volunteer Lansing Fire Department is Fish Days - which has allowed them to purchase new air packs and turn-out gear, in the past; but the department is always open to donations. To make a donation, contact Chief Tony Becker through the Lansing City Clerk’s office.

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