Fire departments from throughout Lincoln and Polk Counties converged at the old Waldport High School Saturday and narrowed the school’s curriculum downed to one thing – fire training. Veteran firefighters and recruits stood side-by-side as fires were set inside old classroom buildings, allowed to build to a good size, and on signal, firefighters grabbed their hoses and moved methodically inside, step by step, to put the fires out. Several fires were set in sequence within each portable classroom until they had gone from one end of the row of classrooms to the other. One fire was set inside the main building which was also put out.
Firefighters will return November 23 and 24 to run a firefighting drill for thirty straight hours (yes 30 hours) as they set fires, put them out, and then set more. But instead of just small drills with portable classrooms, it’ll be the rest of the school – from the front door, down every hallway, through the administration offices and clear back to the gym. They’re going to burn it all down – in stages – giving fire fighting recruits, and even some veterans, what is called “live fire training” on a scale that is seldom possible. There will be enormous flame lengths that few among us will ever see again. It will be quite the spectacle. Drill organizers say firefighters from all participating departments will emerge from the drills physically and mentally exhausted – just like they will experience at various times during their careers when it’s NOT a drill. They’re calling it a truly a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to condense many years of fire fighting experience into just two weekends of training.
As a footnote, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) purchased the development rights to the site from the school district along with a mandate that no permanent structures ever be built anywhere on the site again. FEMA will allow minor park-like or sports structures like picnic tables and baseball backstops – even covered but open-air basketball courts. Community gardens, trails and dog parks will also be okay. But not much beyond that. The Waldport community is in the throes of coming up with a plan for the old school site. As to who will run it is not clear at this point – whether it’s the city, a community non-profit or some other entity. It’s all expected to come together in the next three to five months.
The old high school is being removed so in the event of a major tsunami, it won’t be picked up by the surging waters and become a battering ram against other properties from Waldport all the way up the Alsea.