New firefighters get valuable training with controlled burn in Blair

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Kayla Kubert smiled as she pulled her mask off and walked out of a house that still had smoke pouring from a second floor window.

Just a week and a half after joining the Kennard Volunteer Fire Department, the Lakeland resident experienced her first training burn Tuesday with members of the Blair, Fort Calhoun and Kennard departments.

“How was it?” Blair Fire Chief Dave Aten asked her about watching a fire build in an upstairs bedroom.

“It was really cool. It got dark,” Kubert said.

While she admitted she was nervous at first, a few minutes later, Kubert was pulling her mask back on and getting more instructions from a fellow firefighter.

“I want to go back in,” she said.

This training was just the start of what Kubert hopes will turn into a career.

“I want to help people,” she said. “Ultimately, the long-term goal is to either get onto a police department or fire department for a career. This is a step in that direction.”

Preparing and passing along knowledge

Prior to heading to the one-and-a-half story house, located at 876 S. Highway 30, firefighters met at the Blair North Station to receive instructions and go over the various training exercises they hoped to accomplish.

“For you younger guys, this is your opportunity to learn, to practice, because not every scenario is going to be the same,” Blair Assistant Fire Chief Joe Leonard said.

Fort Calhoun firefighter Dan Mallory, who also serves as Bennington's fire chief, reminded the new firefighters how to protect themselves and their gear while working to extinguish the fire.

“You don't have to be right in the fire to put the thing out. You can get down the hall if it's coming out the door. You can hit it from the hallway and move into it,” he said. “Just use your mind and be smart.”

The veteran firefighters stressed the importance of safety.

“We're there to learn,” Aten said.

“Stay hydrated,” Blair Fire Capt. Joe Maguire said. “If anybody feels like you need a break, take a break. Don't try to overdo yourself.”

Gaining 'invaluable' experience

On the scene, firefighters staged their trucks, ran hose lines from the hydrant and prepared to go inside as Maguire set a blaze on the second floor.

It's not too often fire departments get an opportunity to train on an actual house, but when they do, Aten said, it's “invaluable.”

“You don't like to do on the job with this,” he said. “Get the new people in who have never been in or they've been in very limited to show them how the fire progresses from the beginning and how quickly it can build and come up over the top of you, which is what you don't want it to do.”

Firefighters can also see how smoke banks down as the fire builds.

“It drives it home that you tell everybody to get down on the floor, but they actually see why,” Aten said.

New firefighters also get a feel for the heat, which can be 500 degrees at the floor and rise to 750 degrees only a foot higher.

“You get them in something like this — 'I didn't realize it was going to get that hot.' That's what happens,” Aten said.

Following a couple of training exercises in the two upstairs rooms, firefighters climbed a ladder for roof operations. Using chainsaws, they cut holes through the roof.

As they finished up, another group prepared to attack a fire on the front porch. Flames licked at a first-floor window as a firefighter used an ax to break open the front door.

A stream of fire began shooting out the front of the house. Kubert found herself right at the front of the line, learning to use the hose to fight back the flames.

Two hours after the training began, the crews were ready to let the house burn.

For Blair firefighter Nick Wulf, it was bittersweet to watch it burn. His grandmother, Lois Penry Goodwin, had lived in the house for 10 to 15 years.

“There are a lot of old memories,” he said.

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