House set ablaze for live burn firefighter training

Area fire departments gathered at a house just north of the Georgia border off Highway 28 on Carl Chastain Road to conduct live burn training exercises last month.

Firefighters had the opportunity to hone a variety of skills including forcible entry, ventilation, search techniques, and how fires spread said Highlands Fire & Rescue Chief Ryan Gearhart.

Pictured below is a glimpse of a recent live-burn firefighter training exercise:


“We can set up a fire, knock it down, set up another, knock it down; and we work on different things each time,” said Gearhart. “It helps the more experienced firefighters stay sharp, and they can show the rookies about atmospheric changes, thermal layers, and teach them the importance of staying low in a controlled environment.”

A fully engulfed house after it was used for training.

Gearhart said after all exercises are completed in live burn training, the structure is fully set ablaze and is burned to the ground.

Firefighters trained on a variety of skills including forceable entry.

Firefighters from HFR, Satolah Volunteer Fire Department, Cashiers Glenville Volunteer Fire Department, and Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire Department participated in the exercise.

Firefighters used the house to train on ventilation and search techniques.

Savannah Shaheen Breedlove, 18, lives in Highlands and graduated from Highlands School in May 2021. She has been a Firefighter in Training for 4 months at the Satolah VFD and was eager to participate in Saturday’s training.

Savannah Breedlove is a firefighter in the Satolah Volunteer Fire Department and participated in the recent live burn training.

“Doing live fire exercises teaches you a lot,” said Breedlove. “It gives you a feel of what a real fire is like and teaches you things you need to know when going into real emergencies,”

Savannah Breedlove (middle)exits a smoke filled house after a live burn training exercise. To the right of Breedlove is Satolah Volunteer Firefighter Lilly Talley who would have been suited up if she didn’t have to work.

She added that she volunteers at Satolah VFD because she wants to help people and thought it would be fun.

“As I’m going through training, I am learning fire behavior and how to work the fire nozzle and also how to put on an air pack,” said Breedlove. “The gear is heavy, but going in is exciting.”

Firefighters get geared up before conducted training exercises.

Gearhart said the opportunities for live burn training depends on the availability of houses that need to be demolished. In the case of Saturday’s exercise, it was the third weekend in a row area fire departments were able to conduct live-burn training.

An aerial view of the house fully engulfed in flames.

Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain VFD recently hosted two similar events the previous two weekends.

The house used for live-burn training caught fire several months ago and was damaged to the point beyond repair and needed to be demolished. The homeowner contacted HFR and offered it up as training for firefighters and Gearhart happily accepted.

“The homeowner contacted us and asked if we wanted to train in it,” said Gearhart. “You never know when you’re going to get chances like this so we take them when we can.”

House used for live burn training before exercises are conducted.

Fire is set and will burn unchecked.

Things are beginning to heat up.

Fire is picking up in heat and intensity.

House is fully ablaze.

HFR Chief Ryan Gearhart (center) watches with other firefighters as the house goes up in flames.

Things are very hot up close to the blaze.

House is just a frame at this point.

The heat from the fire searing if one is standing too close.

The structure is beginning to crumble.

Deck couldn’t take the heat anymore and crumbled.

Pictured at the top of the article firefighters let a fire go unchecked in the house’s basement to get a sense of atmospheric changes and teach the less experienced how a fire spreads and the importance of staying low in the thick smoke.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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