City firefighters plan training burn

It gives us the opportunity for on-fire training, which we don’t get very often. You do some simulation, but there’s nothing with live fire.
— Fire Chief Jim Breuer

VERGENNES — A side effect of the purchase and upcoming expansion of Vergennes Residential Care by Charlotte residents Dan and Rebecca Hassan will be to provide valuable training for the Vergennes Fire Department and three of its neighboring departments.
Part of the Hassans’ plan to modernize and expand the existing eldercare building facing the city green at 34 North St. includes buying and demolishing the neighboring duplex at 40 North St. They have a deal with Donald and Theresa Clark to do so. The burn is expected next month.
If all goes well with the final steps of the Hassans’ plans (see related story) sometime in early June that 40,000-square-foot duplex will be removed as the first stop of their larger plan to create Vergennes Grand Senior Living.
The duplex will be replaced by part of the larger structure that will change the 18-bed Vergennes Residential Care into an 82-bed modern care home for the elderly.
The $19 million project will retain and renovate the historic 1820 building on the green, but it made more sense to remove the other building, according to the Hassans.
Where do the fire departments come in?
The duplex at 40 North St. will not be conventionally demolished. The Hassans and the Vergennes Fire Department have agreed that it can become a training burn, first allowing firefighters to practice interior rescues before the structure comes down in a controlled fire.
Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur plans to invite the Ferrisburgh, Addison and New Haven fire departments to participate. He said as many as about four-dozen firefighters could gain rare and valuable live-fire training.
“It gives us the opportunity for on-fire training, which we don’t get very often,” Breur said. “You do some simulation, but there’s nothing with live fire.”
He described how the day could go. Starting at around 6 a.m. trainers will start out setting small fires in the different rooms, and also place dummies around inside the building.
Firefighters can then go in and rescue the dummies in what Breur called “different scenarios,” using actual fire rather than “pepper smoke,” as is the case in simulations.
“Once everybody gets tired, which won’t actually be that long, we’ll bring the house down in a very controlled operation,” Breur said.
Breur said the training burn grew out of an already cooperative relationship with the Hassans, who purchased Vergennes Residential Care from Addison’s Barbara and Tim Buskey.
He said the Hassans consulted with and listened to his department during the project’s design phase, and then allowed city firefighters to run safety drills along with residents in the existing Vergennes Residential Care facility.
“We work as a team,” Breur said. “They’re good people to work with.”
Dan Hassan said he appreciated the department’s professionalism during fire drills.
“They did a fantastic job with our staff,” he said.
Hassan said he and Rebecca Hassan embraced the concept of the training burn even though it roughly doubled their projected $10,000-$15,000 demolition cost.
“They said would you let us do some training in this building before it comes down, and that led to this idea of the burn,” Hassan said. “They expressed how important that training was to them as well as for area fire departments, and we felt like, what a great idea. And it didn’t seem like that much more cost.”
The extra expense came from complying with regulations that require removal of hazardous materials before the burn.
Even though the Clarks had long since removed lead paint, Hassan said a lead and asbestos assessment had to be done anyway. The extra cost comes from the legally required removal of potentially hazardous items such as attic insulation, roofing, siding and appliances before the burn.
“We are prepared to make that happen in a way the regulations require,” Hassan said. “This is something that has been done before, and we’ll abide by what those rules are.”
He acknowledged that some in the city had been skeptical about potential hazardous fumes from the burn, and pointed to detailed information available on the city website,
“Everybody understands there were some social media concerns about those issues. I think the city rightfully addressed those,” Hassan said. “The most important thing was to make sure if it was going to be done that it was done properly.”
Breur also said the burn will be safe, and said also that all within a half-mile of the burn will be notified in advance — a description that fits most city residents.
“We’re just following all the procedures the state has put forward,” he said.
In all, Breur sees the burn day in June making everybody safer.
“We just take the opportunity for the training, and everybody sharpens up their skills to be able to serve the communities,” he said.

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