June 25, 2008 · Updated 3:01 PM
How many South Whidbey parents would tell their kids to go play with fire on a Sunday afternoon?
Well, 15 sets, to be exact.
On Sunday, 15 high school students and another 10 firefighter recruits got their first chance to fight a live fire inside a real house when Fire District 3 burned down a Bailey Road home owned and donated by the Whidbey Telephone Company. The event, which the green firefighters managed to prolong for more than two hours, was smoky and flame-filled training. One of about eight houses FD3 has torched for training during the past year, this burn was unusual in that it was reserved for recruits.
First-time firefighters like South Whidbey High School junior Kelly Horn and former Falcon Tiffany Hagood waited their turns to walk into the burning house with a team of four other firefighters on a single hose line. Like their fellow recruits, they came out of the experience sweaty, covered with soot and smiling ear to ear.
The rookies were not alone at the exercise. Watching over them were division chiefs Les Haggstrom and Donald Elliott, Assistant Fire Chief Paul Busch, Captain Mike Cotton and about a half dozen other veterans. One of those veterans, Jeff Simmons, went into the house on the last of more than a dozen sorties into burning rooms. His team punched holes in the ceiling to practice firefighting technique and to cool the house down.
"All the heat gets out of there fast," he said.
Once the last team came out, the house went fast. The rookies continued to pour water on the flames from the outside, but never enough to extinguish the blaze. It burned to the ground by mid-afternoon.
The district plans to burn several more donated houses this year to keep its firefighters in practice.