New firemen practice with planned fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Vicksburg Fire Department new hire firefighter Paul Powers, left, sprays water in the brush as firefighter Michael David looks on as a house at 1003 1/2 Stouts St. burns as part of a training session for new recruits Tuesday. (The Vicksburg Post/Melanie Duncan)

[10/02/02]Vicksburg firefighters on Tuesday burned down their first house since around 1984.

“This is really a great pretraining for the academy,” said Houghton Connley, one of seven new hires at the exercise. “This type of training gives us a better feel for the job.”

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Once, such controlled burns were a key component in local training. Fire Chief Keith Rogers said at the scene that the state Department of Environmental Quality has set many restrictions on burning dilapidated structures, like the one at 1003 Stouts St.

“This was standard practice in 1984, but now DEQ is very strict on what has to be done before we can burn one,” Rogers said. “It makes it almost impossible to do it.”

Rogers said that the owner of the residence had to check for asbestos, remove all the shingles, remove the plastic piping and take other precautions.

“It was a great deal of cost to the owners to get this house ready for us to burn,” Rogers said. “If more people would be willing to follow the DEQ guidelines, we’d do more controlled burns,” he said. “It’s great training, and it’s great for morale.”

The exercise also gave fire officials a chance to reinforce their success in getting city officials to drop a 40-credit hour college requirement as a hiring prerequisite.

“The college credits really don’t help out here,” Chief Rose Shaifer said. “What the public doesn’t understand is firefighting is different from other professions. We train ourselves.”

Rogers said more firefighters will be able to qualify for work under the new regulation.

The heightened requirement was put in place by the previous city administration and dropped on a 2-1 vote by this one, with North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young opposed.

“A lot of guys in Warren County just don’t have the opportunity to go to college,” Rogers said. “They were getting denied a career even though they could make good firemen.”

Rogers said the new firemen under the new regulation will be just as qualified as the firemen under the old regulation.

And as for the exercise, “We want them to put them in some heat and smoke and get them used to their gear,” Rogers said. “This is a controlled fire, but it is a real fire.”