Garner Fire hopes downtown demolition idea catches fire

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue burns a home in 2011. The department wants to burn others in downtown.

SARAH NAGEM — File Photo

— Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue wants to burn downtown to the ground. At least part of it, anyway.

Now that the town owns a number of buildings it plans to tear down as part of its downtown plan, the department has reached out to the council for permission to use the opportunity for live fire exercises, providing training for firefighters and cheaper demolition for the town.

“We really get beneficial training out of it. It’s as controlled as it can be, but it’s still a fire,” Garner Fire Chief Matt Poole said.

The town has had the independent agency use buildings for such exercises before, including last year at Montague and U.S. 70. Priavate individuals can – and have – also saved money on demolition. But the number and proximity of to-be-destroyed buildings – mostly small homes – is unique.

“They asked if they could use any and all of them,” assistant town manager Rodney Dickerson said at Tuesday’s council work session.

The town currently owns four buildings on Purvis Street (106, 108, 110 and 114) and two on Main Street (201 and 203) that will fall under the new Rec Center footprint. Another pair of houses (106 Pearl Street and 405 Main Street) border the fields owned by Garner Baseball and would become a parking lot.

A contract to demolish a house typically runs in the $7,000-$15,000 range, Dickerson said. When the fire department buns houses down, the town’s public works department typically hauls off debris.

The money to demolish the houses would come from the downtown redevelopment bond.

Council members seemed open to the idea, though no timetable was set nor decisions made. The department would like to spread out the exercises, burning down some in the spring, fall and winter. It would not burn during the summer heat. Poole said ideally this many buildings would spread out over about a year.

In a controlled burn, Poole said Garner Fire first has to get a series of permits and remove any asbestos.

“It’s a pretty intricate process to plan for a live burn,” Poole said of all the permits and preparations.

When ready, firefighters use accelerant to light a room on fire and put it out up to three or four times. Once the ceiling or floors start to weaken or collapse, they move to another room.

Once all the rooms are burned out, they light the whole house up and work on fighting the bigger fire from the outside. Eventually, at the end of the training day, they simply let it burn to the ground.

They most recently trained on a house just a few months ago at Guy Road and U.S. 70.

In addition to letting Garner Fire use the houses for practice, CouncilmanGra Singleton also brought up the fact that in the past the town has given Habitat for Humanity a chance to slavage anything they could use from the houses.

“Let’s let Habitat have it, be good neighbors and move on,” Singleton said. “Burn the damn houses down, let Habitat take what they want, and be done with it.”

Dickerson cautioned that removal of too much material from the house might lessen the fire department’s interest. The point was also made that it might make sense to burn the Main street buildings last, because it would change the landscape of downtown.

Staff will now consult with Garner Fire and other partners in order to put together a more specific plan and timetable to present to council in March.

Singleton also suggested making sure to tell Garner Baseball when the fire department would move – largely so the children had a chance to watch.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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