Firefighters from area battle fires in controlled burns in Tallmadge
Multiple departments participated in training exercise
TALLMADGE – Smoke filled the sky as three structures went up in flames.
The Tallmadge Fire Department and neighboring fire departments gathered last month at Tallmadge Alliance Church, 1155 East Ave., to execute a controlled burn on three houses and garages on the former Ripley Farm where Pulte Homes plans to build 208 single-family residential homes on 103.6 acres.
Besides Tallmadge, other fire departments included Brimfield Township, Village of Mogadore, Munroe Falls, Lakemore Suffield, Rootstown, Akron and Kent.
Tallmadge Deputy Fire Chief Ben Stasik was in charge and said 88 members from fire departments in Summit and Portage counties were involved in the training.
A controlled burn is not a requirement for firefighters but is an important training experience, he said.
“It’s tougher to get this type of training,” Stasik said. “It’s why we had such a great response. It’s invaluable.”
Stasik said he was approached by Pulte Homes about using the three houses and garages for training since they were to be demolished for the development.
“We were able to do a lot of different training,” Stasik said. "To have an opportunity like this is big."
Having the homes available for the controlled burns allow firefighters to see an actual fire and its growth, he said.
“Pulte was fantastic," Stasik said. "They were a partner to us and exemplary in making this happen.”
Mayor David Kline said it's hard for fire departments to have live burns because of the EPA requirements. To get houses ready requires a lot of work such as removing asphalt shingles, asbestos and vinyl siding.
Pulte Homes gave the city the authority to ask for approval from the EPA and they provided dumpsters, he said. Everything was in place for the training.
"I was there cheering them on," Kline said.
Kline served part time on the fire department after graduating from Tallmadge High School.
"When I was on the fire department, it was easier to do live burn training because you didn't have those requirements," Kline said. "Now you have those and it's costly."
The last controlled burn in the city was in 2004, Stasik said.
"The main element of the training is the live fire training," he said. "You’re setting individual fires in different rooms at different times. The crews see the fire growth and different stages and feel some of the heat produced and see different levels of smoke."
Crews learn about different visibility and what stages they are encountering in real life, he said. Crews also practice hose advancement and putting the fire out which causes steam and smoke to mix together in thermal layering.
With multiple buildings, crews also trained on pump operations and running hose lines and operating the truck, Stasik said. Other skills that were practiced included a search and rescue technique, and Proactive Vertical Ventilation, where holes are cut in the roof. The command structure allowed training for the first arriving officer to set the tone for a successful response. The first five minutes are important for fire response.
"We had 10 stations each day and firefighters rotated through on a schedule to practice all 10 stations twice in 15 and 20 minute increments," Stasik said. “We accomplished a lot.”
Not every house is suitable for a controlled burn, Stasik said. It has to be in decent shape to hold up for training with a lot of people, fire and water in the structure.
Because of COVID-19, money in the budget wasn’t used for earlier training and Tallmadge was able to use that money for this controlled burn, he said. Pulte put up money on their side and were great partners to get the training off the ground.
They were prepared to deal with injuries but no one had to be transported, he said.
Live fire instructors need to be involved in a live fire training exercise to be certified and seven participants taking classes at the University of Akron were certified, Stasik said.
When training with that many firefighters, there are always things to learn, he said. There are many ways to do this job and everyone can pick up new things and learn from being around others and passing on what they know.
“For me, it was a great practice in resource management with 50 firefighters on site the first day and 38 firefighters on the second day,” Stasik said. “I had some fantastic instructors and this was the first one for me being in charge.”
Kline supported the training, Pulte Homes was a great partner and Debbie Wallen from Akron Regional Air Quality Management helped with the permits and the paper work, Stasik said.
After training was completed, Pulte filled in the site with dirt and graded it out to be ready for the development.
Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at email@example.com