The Creston Fire Department typically saves houses from fires, but Tuesday night they let one burn down – the department’s third controlled burn of the year.
An economical way to remove a dilapidated house that has become hazardous or an eyesore within a neighborhood is to burn it. Not only does the process save home owners and the city money, but the method provides training for new and experienced firefighters.
Before the Creston Fire Department can use a house for training purposes, an inspection process begins. The department assesses the house to be sure it is a safe distance from neighboring structures.
“The construction of the neighbor house is a real concern because vinyl siding melts very easy, so we have to stay quite a distance from them ... we don’t want to damage that house,” said Creston Fire Chief Todd Jackson.
Since the intentional burning of structures, including buildings burned for fire training, is considered to be a demolition under federal asbestos regulations, asbestos testing is completed prior to the start of a controlled burn by taking 12 to 14 samples of the structure.
“We ask the owners to pay for the asbestos test and a donation towards one of our projects we’re working on for the year,” said Jackson.
Because of its toxicity, asbestos must be removed, if present, before a structure is burned, so that it is not released into the air. If asbestos fibers are inhaled, even a small amount may remain within the lungs and contribute to chronic lung diseases – asbestosis, lung cancer, malignant mesothelioma and asbestos pleural disease. According to the report, “The Public Significance of Asbestos Exposures from Large Scale Fires,” these diseases usually do not occur until 15–60 years after the fibers were inhaled and are responsible for more than 4,500 deaths every year.
If all asbestos testing comes back clear, the department settles on a date and coordinates with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and city street, building and water departments to begin the removal of the structure by burning.
Controlled burns are planned by the fire department’s career staff with training for part-time staff and volunteers in mind.
“We have some framing plans or objectives of what we want to accomplish for the department with the house,” said Jackson.
Depending on the condition of the house, the department sets a house on fire multiple times for many skills activities such as transitional attack and primary search and rescue.
“We are constantly changing the make up of our staff, both career, part-time or volunteer,” said Jackson. “It’s always changing and we have some guys come in with limited experience so it provides experience for them.”