Stow Fire Department completes extensive training at North River Road home

19th century house was torn down after safety forces finished their work

Jeff Saunders
Kent Weeklies
A firefighter stands on a ladder while the Stow Fire Department conducts a training session at a vacant North River Road home.

STOW — Anyone in the area of North River Road east of Marsh Road during the daytime of late might have assumed that a house there was on fire, what with the emergency vehicles outside.

But just about every day for seven weeks?

No, the old unoccupied house was not on fire. Slated for demolition, it has been the scene of extensive fire department, and even some police training, since Aug. 10, said Stow Fire Training Capt. Rick Hohenadel.

“Each week we concentrated on a topic, trained at the house, and then the last week was a culmination of all those trainings where we put together a couple of scenarios,” said Hohenadel.

Stow firefighters were able to train for seven weeks in August and September at a North River Road home slated that was demolished Monday.

The home’s owners, Mike and Carrie Rauh, made the house available for training after they built a new home on the 15 acres they own and operate as a Christmas tree farm and decided to demolish the old house.

“Because of all the value and lives that have been there,” said Mike Rauh, “its last hurrah could be to give value and maybe even, because of the training, [it] could save some lives and maybe that could be the ultimate bonus. So the fire department, I reached out to them. They were interested, even eager, so one thing led to another.”

According to Summit County property records, the bungalow-style home was constructed in 1827. Rauh said it was demolished Monday.

“That [house] is kind of old and difficult to maintain and it had reached the end of its useful life,” he said, adding that wood from the house has been reclaimed. “We’re looking to build things with it and repurpose it and in a way, it’s kind of a continuation of the idea of the house."

Hohenadel said individual training topics included incident command, ventilation, search and rescue, wall breaching, and working with hoses. Primary training took place Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Thursdays through Sundays were makeup days.

Personnel from each of the three stations trained separately during those first five weeks.

From left Stow Fire Lt. Matt Schneider, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Lang, Lt. Eric Brooks and firefighter Amber Ryczek talk during training at a North River Road home.

But then came the sixth week, the week of Sept. 14, when it was all put together.

“One of our scenarios was a basement fire with kids trapped upstairs in a bedroom and an adult trapped on the first floor,” said Hohenadel.

It was made as realistic as possible. Members of all three stations took part at the same time, arriving in “staggered responses,” as they likely would during an actual fire. Those training that week either worked overtime or earned comp time so that there would be firefighters on duty at the stations to handle real emergencies. Upon arrival, they would size up the situation.

“They would have to make decisions on what was presented to them,” said Hohenadel.

To make it even more real, someone would even play the role of a “nervous, anxious parent” who arrives on scene.

“It was a dynamic training, which the guys appreciated and they had a great time with it because it was real,” said Hohenadel, adding that firefighters went through this training several times, allowing them to practice different skills.

Due to a large number of firefighters on scene and a sharp turn and steep hill to the east that created a blind spot for motorists coming from that direction, the road was closed during training that week for the safety of the firefighters, said Hohenadel.

During training exercises, a machine was used to create a cool, white, non-toxic smoke within the house that obscured vision.

“It’s a safe way to train,” said Hohenadel.

Hohenadel said that was supposed to have been the last week of training, but due to a delay in demolition, the fire department was able get in some vertical ventilation training during a seventh week.

“So we had guys on the roof cutting some holes,” he said.

The Stow Fire Department spent seven weeks in August and September training at a North River Road home that was demolished on Monday. From left, Lt. James Barbur, and firefighters Jason Walker and Brad Wilson operate a hose while surrounded by smoke created by a machine.

Hohenadel said that due to COVID-19 and the difficulty of maintaining proper distancing during such training, Stow was the only department taking part, but Stow, Kent, Copley, Ravenna, Norton, Springfield Township and Hiram police K-9 units conducted training in the home and on the property during one night.

Hohenadel said the fire department is grateful to the Rauhs for making the house available for training, While such opportunities do arise occasionally, Hohenadel said it is rare for a structure to be available for training during such a long period of time.

“We don’t get that that often,” he said. “In fact, that’s the first time in my career we’ve had the opportunity to use a private residence for this type of training for that long a period.”

Hohenadel said this also saved the city a lot of money. Normally, for training, the department uses a “burn house” at Portage Lakes Career Center which costs $1,200 per day to rent.

“This was that beneficial to us. This was a huge savings to the city,” said Hohenadel.

Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at jsaunders@recordpub.com or @JeffSaunders_RP.