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Laine Jensen, at left, struggles to control the fire hose while younger brother Landen Burlingame tries to direct his efforts. Kids were a big part of the fire training exercise, learning the ropes. (Photos by Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Firefighters fine tune skills at controlled burn Saturday

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Volunteer firefighters, fresh off a house fire in Park Rapids last Tuesday morning, torched a rural Hubbard County home Saturday to get more practice under their black belts.

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Nearly two dozen members of the Park Rapids Fire Department reported for duty Saturday morning, spending an hour in the classroom, then moving outdoors to extinguish the controlled burn of the former St. Peter's Catholic parsonage. The two-story structure was moved to a rural location in the 1970s and served as a home before it became dilapidated and burn-worthy.

The squad conducts at least one live burn annually, said training officer Mike Ridlon. "We actually get lots of requests" to burn down old barns, homes and sheds, he said.

But the red tape and paperwork necessary to actually burn a structure down, especially with a state-imposed burn ban in effect, gets to be onerous, he said.

Saturday's fire required extensive planning and preparation. Firefighters thoroughly soaked the grounds surrounding the house southeast of Park Rapids and brought extra water to the scene.

During Level 1 training, the fighters, in small groups of three or four, enter the house, set a fire and watch it progress. They learn a fire's propensities and characteristics as it rolls and spreads. Then it's squelched.

During Level 2 training, the fire is set inside and firefighters attack it from the outside to simulate arriving on the scene.

The finale, watched by members of the public and a dozen enthralled kids, sent black smoke bellowing into the air over the region as the structure was burned to the ground.

Kids got to wear firefighter helmets and watch the blaze from a safe distance. Some got a ride in the cab of an engine truck. Thirteen-year-old Josh Severtson was sitting proud riding shotgun in the truck, grinning from ear to ear.

As the firefighters worked during the burn-down, youthful commentary accompanied their efforts.

"Cool!" said one boy.

"Awesome!" said another.

When the fire was safely contained, the youngsters got to man - or boy - the hose. Laine Jensen, 13, seemed to have trouble controlling the highly pressurized nozzle in his hands.

The volunteers train once a month, but not in so dramatic a fashion usually. They practice using the Jaws of Life, study how to decontaminate hazardous materials and keep abreast with trends, fire ordinances and their overall skills.

The squad has no shortage of volunteers ready and waiting to join up. Despite three retirements late last year, all the men have been replaced, said Chief Donn Hoffman.

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