HAMILTON — While volunteer firefighters hustled to spray the surrounding area on the 220 block of Marcus Street in Hamilton, one Pinesdale fireman — tasked with running an excavator — stopped and warmed his hands from the blaze, then penetrating through the roof.
"I can finally get my hands warm," said Jeremy Spencer, smiling, as wet snow and a light breeze carried on Saturday.
The cheery attitude while the apartment complex fire grew larger wasn't in bad taste, however. The building, in need of a demolish, had been donated by its owner, George Bingham, for this very use — to help train area volunteer fire fighters on how to fight structure fires.
Around 35 firefighters from Hamilton, Darby, Pinesdale and Corvallis took part in small-room fire fights and practiced spray techniques to more effectively combat real-world fires.
But the simulation was about as real as it gets. There was nothing fake about the heat and the flames.
"This is really important for these guys. We wear our protective gear, clothing and air packs so we have fresh air, but the heat is (real)," assistant fire chief Joe Kerr said. "...If you were to have your oven turned up to 500 degrees and you open the door and stuck your face right there, that’s going to give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like to go into a house fire."
One of the first timers on a fire was Hamilton volunteer firefighter Scott Domingo. He joined the volunteer force to be a part of and help his community.
On Saturday, he got his first taste of putting out a fire and running in head first to a burning room.
"We got a lot of it out from the outside, but it's pretty dark in there and you have to follow the walls," Domingo said. "... And stay low. It was still pretty warm."
Indeed, it was warm enough to start the final demolition fire a little earlier than planned.
A previous room burn had set ablaze some of the ignition in the attic, and the final training burn portion had to be called back. From there, the volunteer firefighters went into action with the already prescribed large-structure fire.
It burned to the ground without any noticeable hitch.
"Real life training, absolutely," Kerr said. "That's the thing about fire, it's very dynamic, and that's why we practice the same way we would do a live burn because things do change on you, things do happen."
In all, the fire showcased even more than the ability of the local volunteer firefighters — giving up a Saturday to train. Hamilton's police force helped manage traffic as many residents tried grabbing a closer look. The Hamilton public works office also had an opportunity to make sure fire hydrants were functioning properly.
"We're taking care of blight — this house has to come down anyway — so now you have an opportunity to train your firemen," said Hamilton Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf, who spent Thursday night working with the fire department ahead of the burn Saturday. "It's good for public works, it's good for mutual aid...
"We're learning how to use each other's equipment, we're learning how to work together because if a need arises for the different departments to come together, it's great."