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Firefighters' training ground

Westview Homes being used for lessons on building collapse

Westview Homes being used for lessons on building collapse

December 03, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A low-income housing development slated for demolition is serving one last public purpose as a training ground for firefighters.

Hagerstown City firefighters are learning this week how to handle building collapses using Westview Homes as their hands-on laboratory.

On Monday, they practiced building wooden braces of the kind that would be used to shore up an unstable wall.

Past exercises have involved breaking through walls, breaking door locks and cutting through floors in the abandoned public housing units in Hagerstown's West End.

Firefighters have done everything except set the buildings on fire, an idea rejected because of strict burning regulations in the city.

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"It's just a golden opportunity for us to get hands-on experience," said Hagerstown Fire Capt. Justin Mayhue.

When firefighters heard the buildings would be torn down, they worked with the Hagerstown Housing Authority to gain access after residents moved out, firefighter Richard Gilbert said.

Over the past few weeks, they've made good use of the buildings, Mayhue said.

They learned to cut holes in drywall to serve as a makeshift ladder. They practiced techniques for safely bailing out of crumbling buildings. They used tools to cut through cinder block walls.

Now, they're taking "Carpentry 101," learning to shore up walls, ceilings and even entire stairwells.

It's the first time city firefighters have received such training, which will enable them to better respond to building collapses, Mayhue said.

Washington County Special Operations, which is already trained for search and rescue, allowed the use of its equipment for the training exercise, Mayhue said.

By doing the work rather than reading about it in a book, firefighters can learn their strengths and weaknesses, said instructor Tony Folio from the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

Some firefighters may be good at hammering nails, while others may have a knack for cutting wood. The firefighters learned to work as a team so they could build the structures fairly quickly.

Bulldozers are scheduled to arrive at Westview this week in anticipation of a Dec. 10 start of demolition work.

Once the buildings are razed, work on a $73.5 million revitalization project will begin. The development will include single-family homes and duplexes, as well as 150 public housing units.

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