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Area firefighters burn to learn

It appeared to be a real emergency when firefighters from multiple departments converged on a site near St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Mount Airy — but it was all for training purposes.

While they normally try to prevent such blazes, it was the direct opposite with the controlled burn in late November which targeted an outlying structure on the grounds of the church at 1401 Fancy Gap Road.

Along with brushing up on their own unit’s suppression skills for an actual emergency, participants gained valuable experience in cooperating with other fire personnel.

“The biggest thing is we learned how each other operates,” Mount Airy Fire Chief Zane Poindexter explained Monday.

This reflects an era of mutual-aid agreements locally whereby members of multiple departments might be summoned to battle a residential or other blaze to ensure sufficient manpower.

“We learn the expectations of what we’re going to be doing,” Poindexter said of such scenarios. “Sometimes we (Mount Airy firefighters) get invited to burns out in the county.”

The building at St. Andrew Lutheran Church was well-suited to a live-burn exercise, the city fire chief added.

“They had a house that they used as storage for many years,” he said of church leaders, who decided the building had outlived its usefulness for some reason. “They wanted us to take that and use it for training purposes.”

In addition to Mount Airy firefighters, those taking part included members of the Franklin, Pilot Knob and Shoals volunteer fire departments, with personnel from Forsyth County also involved. The Surry County Emergency Medical Service was on standby at the scene.

Around 30 individuals were involved altogether in the fire-training exercise that lasted about six hours.

Although the event did not involve an actual emergency, Poindexter says the risk elements were the same. Live-burn training situations are said to be where most of the accidents happen around the state.

The wood-frame structure near St. Andrew Lutheran Church was a great candidate for the exercise, due to being well-built — not in a rundown condition as are others targeted for intentional burns.

“So we really wanted to get as many people there as we could for training,” the city fire chief said.

There was no electrical service to the house, which also had its contents cleared out and was checked for the presence of asbestos.



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