Before I left tonight to watch the “controlled burn” of a condemned home here in Blair, I thought of titles for an article that might be ironic, funny, or maybe both. As a writer, I hope to impart the facts of a story with my brand of what – some call – “humor”.
When I stood mere feet from 1333 Lincoln tonight, I was so struck by the heat, sound, fury and majestic disaster of the “controlled house burn” the Blair Volunteer Fire Department performed along with Kennard’s Volunteer force, I felt a more sober title was in order.
A controlled burn of a house conducted by a volunteer fire department is a carefully planned training exercise where a vacant or condemned building is intentionally set on fire. Under supervision, firefighters practice various firefighting techniques, such as suppression, ventilation, and search and rescue, while learning about fire behavior and teamwork. Safety measures are in place, and the fire is contained within the structure. These controlled burns provide valuable hands-on experience, enhancing firefighters’ skills and preparedness for real emergencies.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been five feet away from 1200 degrees of raging conflagration. But, I had the honor this evening to feel only slight moments of what the brave men and women of Blair’s Volunteer Fire Department must prepare to put their lives on the line to stop. Hot is not the word for it.
Hellish is more accurate.
It’s hot. The heat is explosive. You hear wood snap, glass shatter, steam, wind, commands barked to get water where it needs to go to control the burn. Truly, I was mesmerized by the chaos and danger of it all. Flames shot up through holes in the roof and seemed to taunt the firemen as they licked the branches of a tree above the house.
The man who owns the house told me the city did not pay to burn it down. And, when it’s razed, he says he plans to rebuild. That non-paid relationship was a theme I heard more about when I spoke with one of the volunteers, an EMT.
Blair should pay those who literally risk it all to save the rest of us. Many times (maybe most), when the Fire Department is called it’s because one of us left a cigarette burning, plugged in too many Christmas lights, or cooked our hot dogs over a grill too close to the shed. And, so, it seems to me the Blair Volunteer Fire Department should be paid.
Okay, that’s how I feel. Disagree if you will. In fact, comment on this article if you think I’m wrong.
But, your opinion will matter less than the EMT and Firemen I spoke with. The EMT said the city did not have the funds to pay them, and it was not right to expect to be paid. After a brief back and forth, I saw how serious this EMT took that position. The word “volunteer” means something different to a brave, front line hero. They do this for more than a paycheck.
And, yes, when a writer employs that kind of cliche it usually is a sign of a paucity of ideas. In this case, it’s absolutely true, given the conversations I had this evening.
One fireman I spoke with, Brock Nielsen, a volunteer from Kennard (all of 19 years old) wryly said that although “the chicks” (my verbiage) do like firemen, he does it because “it is in (his) blood.” When I pressed on what that means Brock said many other members of his family before him served this way, and it’s just something he is called to do. Before he donned his helmet to head back into the fray, I said, “You’ve probably seen all the movies like ‘Backdraft’,” and Brock nodded. I then asked is that what it’s really like?
Brock smiled again and said, “No. Not even close.”
The crowd which gathered to watch this all unfold included a classmate of my wife’s from high school, Jamie Rogge. His son, Jacob Rogge is – like his father was – a volunteer for the Blair Fire Department. Like Brock Nielsen from Kennard, he is young, and dedicated to this calling. Since I had the chance to talk with his dad, I asked Jamie how he felt with his son heading into a burning building, was he scared or worried. Jamie told me no, he wasn’t worried in that way, it was just part of the job to face the flames. (Jacob proudly told me his number, 45, was his dad’s before him.)
The atmosphere around this event would easily have called for a hotdog stand, kissing booth, and a parade. Well, except for the part where a building fell under its own weight into an ash heap brought on by a raging inferno. And, all that nestled between two houses that were not scheduled for a roasting. The level of general calm and “been here before” was buttressed by the fact that most of the people milling about either had a family member on the force, in the building, on the building, or were a former fire department volunteer.
Toward the end of the evening, while the fire burned the hottest, I stood next to a female volunteer. I leaned toward her and said, “You know, it’s both beautiful and terrible at the same time.”
She replied, “Kinda reminds me of my daughter.”
Written by Don Harrold for BlairToday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for corrections or additions.