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Multiple fire departments conduct controlled burn on 1920s home

SALISBURY — It’s been years since Hilda Newsome Hart’s family gathered for Sunday dinner at the Bringle Ferry Road home built by her grandfather, Tobias Newsome.

On Thursday morning, Hart, now 89, sat just yards away from the home while local firefighters prepped it to be burned for training.

Hart, who is currently living at Autumn Care Nursing home next door to the home, said she hoped she would not cry. She recalled the home, which was built about 1924, was where the family had cookouts and played in the yard and on a swing in front.

The two-story home was at 1435 Bringle Ferry Road.

Hart’s daughter, Tam Powers, said she recalled a big pasture with horses on the property. The staff at Autumn Care encased a brick taken from the home with the words “from the home that built me” and presented the gift to Hart.

“The objective here is to run simulations of a standard house fire focusing primarily on fire attack and victim rescue, our arrival assignments and some drills that we’ve been doing for the last few months,” said Battalion Chief Nick Martin of the Salisbury Fire Department.

Martin said the first simulation was a fire in a second-floor bedroom with flames spilling into the hallway and a victim trapped on stairs.

The first crew would encounter that victim and make a decision whether to rescue him immediately or proceed with the fire attack.

At one point while firefighters were on the second floor outside a window, a plume of smoke quickly turned into a wave of fire downstairs.

Martin said that was caused by a rapid ignition of flammable fire gases.

“This is a real house, and one of the differences between a house like this and, say, a burn building that may be at the community college is that the walls are real walls covered in old paint and lacquer and drywall.

“When that stuff heats up, it (produces) off-gassing, and an off-gas is a very flammable gas. When that gas begins to fill the space from the ceiling to the floor, once it reaches ignition temperature it will simultaneously ignite,” Martin said.

He said one of the things that makes such training valuable is that in many ways, it is as dangerous as a real house fire in which firefighters do a lot to control the circumstances.

Planning for the exercise began about a month or so ago, said Battalion Chief Jay Baker.

He said the current owner wanted the home demolished but approached the Fire Department to ask if it could be used in training. Once the plan was set in motion, the house had to be inspected to determine if it contained asbestos or other potentially harmful material.

This training is essentially designed for the rookies who are currently in school, Baker said, but all firefighters have an opportunity to participate.

Firefighters from the Salisbury, Granite Quarry, East Spencer and Miller’s Ferry departments ran about six scenarios that allowed them to use skills and learn new skills. A crew from the Rowan County Rescue Squad was on the scene to assist.

“It really aligns with what we meet on the street,” said Fire Engineer Spencer White, who has been with the Salisbury department nearly eight years.

White said the training differed from previous years because firefighters responded to the “scene” as if they’d received an actual call. Years ago, they would have set up their equipment on the lawn and been given a signal to begin.

“You can’t prepare for everything, but the more you prepare the more prepared you can be,” said Salisbury firefighter Adrian Gantt.

She’s been with the department for two years. During the training, Gantt was part of the Rapid Intervention Team, which aids firefighters if someone is trapped or a hose is dropped.

The intervention team is ready to go in, if needed.

Gantt said training like this helps firefighters know what others are doing and opens the lines of communication for learning and teaching.

Assistant East Spencer Fire Chief Chris Clark was on hand as a scene responder first to arrive. As part of his role, he and others searched for “victims” inside the home.

“We try to get more in sync with each other,” Clark said.

Clark had the opportunity to train alongside his father, Don, a firefighter with the Salisbury Fire Department. Later in the day, his brother, Cody, also with the East Spencer agency, joined in.

He said the training is valuable because it includes firefighters who may not work together on a regular basis.

“Things like this, we can draw from every department,” Clark said.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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