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'Burn building' to help train firefighters

Funding set for ‘burn building’

The Covington City Council chose Sunbelt Building to construct the planned training building for the city’s fire department. One of four bidders, Sunbelt came in lowest at $508,199. The building is a joint project between the city and Newton County, with each contributing half toward its $1.2 million price tag.

The burn building was originally projected to cost $1.5 million, according to Covington City Manager Leigh Anne Knight.
Chief John McNeil said the building should be finished in about six months.

Training to fight a house fire isn’t easy. For one, you have to have a burning house.

To do just that without having to torch someone’s old house, Covington and Newton County have decided to build a joint “burn house” training center at 195 Piper Road.

Covington Fire Chief John McNeil said in the past his department had to find an “acquired structure” — think abandoned, donated house — to burn down, or practice in an old semi trailer behind the fire station on Pace Street. And practicing isn’t an option; it must be done.

The new building “allows us to set a fire in the building and it’s a concrete building so you can set fires and reset fires,” McNeil said.

The building will cover 6,000 square feet and contain two stories. It will also include an alley bay to help firefighters train for business entries, and a driving course to allow for maneuvering tanker and bucket trucks into ideal firefighting positions. If the fire departments’ budgets allow, a training tower complete with ropes for rappelling might be built in the future, McNeil said.

All firefighters receive burn-house training in the state firefighting academy, and they often receive updated training as time allows. But the academy is in Forsyth.

There are several advantages to building a burn house in Covington, McNeil said.

“It’s local and you don’t have to get an acquired building and it’s available when you want to use it,” he said. “Also, it allows us to train with Newton County fire, which is our partner in this. They respond to fires when we respond, and we respond to theirs, so it’s a chance to do training together.”

The key to burn-house training is its realism, he said. It’s one thing to stand around and explain what to do, but quite another to feel your way through fire and smoke, real fire and smoke, while breathing in a respirator.

“It’s about zero visibility and high heat, basically,” McNeil said.