LAKE PLACID — Plans by the Highlands County Fire Services to burn derelict houses for firefighter training raised many concerns from the town council with Councilman Steve Bastardi firmly against it.
After a lengthy discussion Monday, council allowed Fire Services to use two or three of five derelict houses for fire training exercises for local fire departments. The houses, in the area of East Bellview Street and North Pine Avenue, are slated to be destroyed to clear the properties for the construction of a residential project to be built by Lake Placid builder The Cottage Co.
At Monday’s council meeting, Highlands County Emergency Operations Director Tim Eures and Fire Services Supervisor Charles Andrews explained the benefits of this type of realistic training for firefighters and the numerous safety measures taken before and during such burns.
Councilwoman Debra Worley said during a previous training burn, the Saturday morning market was going strong when the wind shifted, blowing the smoke toward the market.
“It was really sad; people were running for their cars; everybody had to leave and get in their car to get away from it,” she said. You could hardly see any of the vendors’ displays.
Worley suggested doing the fire training on a Sunday when many of the businesses are closed.
Andrews said every guideline was followed on that particular house burn.
He was told there was a farmers market from 8 a.m. until noon.
Worley said it was from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Andrews explained: “I thought it was noon so we waited until 12:30.” Fires are going to produce smoke and the wind did pick up and created a smoke issue, he said.
Andrews said the new planned burns will be a great training opportunity.
Bastardi countered saying that firefighters should go to a professional training facility.
“Don’t put the public at risk in a failed attempt to try and build some sort of training program in an uncontrolled environment,” Bastardi said. “It would be technically impossible to communicate to everyone that we are going to have a controlled burn in town.”
What if a hot ember burns another house down in town, he asked. “It’s just not the sort of thing you do in a civilized society.”
Mayor John Holbrook said this would be under a controlled environment.
“I have been involved with fire departments; I was a fire chief for a number of years; I know the positive this can have and personally I see absolutely nothing wrong with it in our environment,” he said.
Eures said Fire Services will do a better job with communicating with Town Administrator Phil Williams to schedule the burns when there are no planned activities in town.
Addressing Bastardi, Eures said, “The issue is it’s live fire. So something could happen, but we take every precaution we can.”
Councilwoman Arlene Tuck made a motion to approve the fire training exercises, but requiring a 10-day notice to the public.
Councilman Ray Royce seconded the motion.
The council approved the motion by a 3-1 vote with Bastardi dissenting.
Andrews said: “It’s an excellent opportunity for us to get some real hands-on training versus going inside and squirting water at a steel wall and pretending its a fire, because that is what a lot of your training facilities do.”