Story and photos by Bryan Gatchell, Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. — Smoke collected in the apartment, filling up the living room from the ceiling down; a team of Fort Benning firefighters doused the fuming flames. After a pause and some time for fresh air to waft in and thin the smoke, the firefighters re-entered the apartment, stacked a couple of pallets and lit a new fire, which they then worked together to put out again.
The garrison’s Directorate of Emergency Services personnel conducted fundamental firefighting training on the former residences of Ragin Court Nov. 16, which had been scheduled for demolition for years.
After stacking pallets against the wall and lighting them on fire again for the firefighters to extinguish again, white smoke billowed out a side window.
“We’re able to have our firefighters work these fires in a realistic environment,” said Assistant Chief Ryan Earwood, Fort Benning Fire Department. “They are able to hone and fine-tune those skills they use on a daily basis, to get that fire out quicker and faster if it does occur in a house.”
The on-post fire department is required to train twice yearly on two liv fires, something they typically do at a metal training building designed specifically for that purpose.
“The opportunity to do a live, livable structure is very rare for us,” said Earwood. “The last time was almost 20 years ago. We were able to provide a realistic environment with realistic interiors to the firefighters.”
To prepare the buildings for firefighting training, the Environmental Department of the Directorate of Public Works removed shingles from the roof, fluorescent lightbulbs, plastics, fabrics and more.
For the Directorate of Public Works, the training burn fulfilled a dual purpose, according to Theresa Hamilton, who works for the Environmental Compliance Branch of DPW.
“We are getting some good training out of this,” said Hamilton, “and it helps with the installation reduction plan, because we’re not getting funding for demolition.
Hamilton continued that DPW worked closely with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to ensure the buildings were safe to burn.
The buildings at Ragin Court have been burned down over the course of three successive weekends.
Furthermore, the buildings at Ragin Court have provided an opportunity for on-post firefighters to engage with their off-post counterparts. A firefighting crew from Harris County north of Columbus, Georgia was at the training Nov. 16, and a crew from Talbot County northwest of Columbus was at the Nov. 24 training.
According to Earwood, training with other communities is advantageous for Fort Benning.
“We look at the things that work well for other departments and see if we can incorporate them into us,” he said.
In October, Fort Benning invited Georgia Search and Rescue on post to perform structural collapse rescue on one of the Ragin Court buildings.