The Plain Dealer, Cleveland
SEVEN HILLS, Ohio — The general public may view the demolition of a house with apathy; however, the opposite is true for fire departments, which see the situation as Christmas morning.
That’s why as the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District currently addresses flooding issues in the city with its $4 million Hemlock Creek Bank Stabilization Project — which includes demolishing seven homes — the Seven Hills Fire Department is taking full advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s just the chance to do this type of training in an actual structure we’re not familiar with, because it doesn’t come along too often,” Seven Hills Fire Chief Jamie Meklemburg said. “So we’re going to take every opportunity we can.”
For the month of August, the fire department will be training its 45 firefighters at soon-to-be-demolished homes at 3350 Forest Overlook and 6996 Donna Rae.
The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s rules for using the homes for training include no controlled fires or damage to the exterior of the home. Still, Meklemburg is finding plenty for this staff to do.
“I’m sending the 7 a.m. crew and 3 p.m. crew down every day the rest of the month,” Meklemburg said. “It’s like you’re pulling up on a residential house fire and here’s the scenario. Go to work.
“This week it’s all about hose line advancement. We want to make sure the guys are getting those repetitions in for pulling a hose line, forcing a door, making entry to a house, finding the seeds of the fire and throwing a little bit of water.”
Next week the fire chief said the firefighters will work on vent enter search, which involves putting a ladder at a second window of a smoke-filled house.
“I’ll have a smoke machine, so we’ll smoke the house out,” Meklemburg said. “We’re making entry into the house, securing the door and then doing a rapid search to find a victim that’s down.”
What’s appealing about using targeted demolished homes for training is the cost. The fire chief said a similar experience at Tri-C’s Public Safety Training Center could be as much as $2,500.
“To have this in our own backyard and to send the guys on shift is huge,” Meklemburg said. “This only happens once or twice a year, if you’re lucky.
“There’s only so much you can do at the fire station. To actually throw ladders on windows, make entry and go through smoke, it makes a big difference.”
In related Seven Hills Fire Department news, the city recently purchased a 2020 Chevy Tahoe, which will act as a fire chief vehicle. The $35,000 full-size SUV and $5,000 equipment purchases came out of the fire department’s budget.
“I was hoping to hold off on that purchase for a while, but after the storm we had last month and the situations I found myself driving through Seven Hills with my personal truck, it was something I decided to step up a little bit,” said Meklemburg, who was appointed chief earlier this year.
“This vehicle will be here throughout my career. It’s a capital investment in our department that was overdue.”
Safety ended up being the biggest factor behind purchasing the command vehicle, which will contain Meklemburg’s advanced life support bag in case he needs to assist an EMS call.
The Tahoe will also feature a communications center that allows the fire chief to command a fire or emergency scene.
“We’ll have what’s called an accountability board where if we have a large incident here in Seven Hills or in a neighboring city, it’ll have these tags that we’ll be able to track where people are and who is with which division,” Meklemburg said.
“I’m on call 24 hours a day. Being right down in Valley View, if we get fires after my normal business hours, I do need to be able to respond safely with lights and sirens to get to wherever I’m needed.”
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