Bayview burn building puts volunteers in fire

Whidbey Island fire departments often share resources and train together, as Central Whidbey recently joined South Whidbey Fire/EMS in Bayview.  - Photo courtesy of South Whidbey Fire/EMS
Whidbey Island fire departments often share resources and train together, as Central Whidbey recently joined South Whidbey Fire/EMS in Bayview.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of South Whidbey Fire/EMS


Building a multi-room structure takes a lot of work.

Burning it to the ground takes only seconds.

It’s seen as a worthwhile investment for South Whidbey Fire/EMS, which erected and burned its Bayview training facility a couple of times in recent months.

“Hours of training can pay off in a split second,” said Deputy Chief Mike Cotton, who leads the district’s training program. “It’s what provides our volunteers with the experience they need. The burn building was safer for training as everything that went into its interior and exterior were known.”

Training with volunteers who may never respond to a real house fire is an important lesson. And the temporary building near Bayview School and Good Cheer Food Bank is a controlled environment that reduces risk.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS volunteers increased their basic fire training over the past year and a half to 1,800 hours. While 850 hours of that was in the classroom, the department also had a variety of structures donated for training purposes.

The department’s plan included the building because its design is similar to what volunteers could encounter. It was constructed like a house, allowing creation of various scenarios inside. Central Whidbey has a permanent burn building for training, but several of their team members also participated with South Whidbey Fire/EMS on drills throughout the year.

The temporary structure was taken down April 20. The building was taken apart with most of its pieces recycled or retained for future use.

“Thankfully we don’t get a lot of structure fires,” Cotton said. “But when we do, we want our volunteers to be ready to confront danger and act accordingly. We try to give them enough controlled training time so that in an emergency we all do our job, and we all get to go home.”

The majority of calls South Whidbey Fire/EMS first responders answer are not fires, but medical emergencies. Spending time on fire suppression is important, fire officials said, because of the danger fire poses to residents and the firefighters.

“It is a tremendous risk to fight a fire,” Cotton said.

Even after 26 years of working in the fire service, Cotton admits he has a healthy respect for the dangers fire represents.

“I don’t ever take it for granted and don’t want our volunteers to either,” he said.

Fortunately, a team of dedicated volunteer officers including Jim Towers, Brian Vick, Jeff Parker and Chris Blasko also helped the department put together a comprehensive training package that is delivered to the volunteers.

“Not only do they attend drills, these guys help to plan, organize, train and teach their fellow firefighters,” Cotton said. “They take the extra time and effort to participate in training because they recognize the value of it.”

In 2012, basic fire training included acquired structures, or buildings donated by the community, in March, April, July and October. Acquired structures come with unknown risks, Cotton said, and include extensive inspections and a number of regulations must be involved. Not every building offered can be accepted.

To learn more about donating a building, contact Chief Rusty Palmer at or 360-321-1533.


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