Regional Live Fire Training Planned for Old Waldport High
Even as its upcoming demolition nears, the vacant Waldport High School will continue to serve as an important source of community education – with several weeks of fire, law enforcement, and emergency response training taking place inside. “This is going to be a huge regional training opportunity. ‘Epic’ would be the word,” says Fire Chief Derek Clawson, with Central Oregon Coast Fire and Rescue. “We will train with different agencies from several counties so we can maximize our time in the building. However, the main goal is to train local personnel. Our new firefighters will have a lot of requirements checked off their list when they finish the training.”
A few years ago, Toledo Fire conducted live fire training at the school district’s vacated Burgess School, with 150 participants over three weekends. It is anticipated that several hundred people will take advantage of the training at the old Waldport High School this fall.
“This is a vital, once-in-a-lifetime training for our local firefighters and law enforcement,” says Toledo Fire Chief Will Ewing. “The live fire training event is quite valuable to us. It easily gives us 150 hours of site use for hundreds of participants.”
Meanwhile, Clawson says his fire agency hopes to take possession of the 42,000-sq.ft. school building in early September, and will begin training sessions soon after. Several hundred firefighters, police officers and community emergency response volunteers from throughout Lincoln County and the region will use the 55-year-old school building for “cold” training – that is, training without fire – during September and October.
The “hot” training sessions involving real fire will take place on weekends during the month of November, depending on wind and weather conditions. The plan is to complete all training by Dec. 1 so that the debris can be removed by Dec. 15 in order to allow the school district to begin restoration of the 11.5 acre property to open-space use.
Toledo Chief Ewing says “Cold” training exercises include breaking through a wall to escape from a burning room, pulling a stiff water-filled hoseline through a building, making forcible entry into a building, and ventilating a roof.
Other possible training and drill scenarios include active shooter and mass casualty.
Not only does this learning opportunity provide valuable hands-on experience, it saves the school district and taxpayers “tens of thousands of dollars in removal costs,” Clawson says. “After the burns are over, concrete and other items that don’t burn will be hauled away – a big reduction in what would have to be taken to a landfill or recycling center.
All the proper steps are being taken to ensure that the burn will be done safely. For instance, all asbestos will be removed before anything’s smashed, battered or burned. All other potentially hazardous or noxious materials such as plastic will be removed. Also, measures are being taken to protect the nearby slough from runoff. In addition, burning exercises will not be permitted if there is excessive windy or dry weather conditions.
As for disassembling the building so that materials can be reused or recycled, the decision was made not to go that route. “It was determined that it would be a time consuming, cost prohibitive and unsafe process,” Chief Ewing said. “For example, to remove beams from a ceiling would leave the walls unstable. After careful consideration of the alternatives, demolition through “live” fire training will be the best value for the community,” he said.