Burning Down the House


From the: “You are Never too Old to Stop Complaining and Learn Something Series”

Last Thursday evening I watched Carleton Place’s Ocean Wave Fire Company roar down Lake Avenue to yet another ‘practice burn’ at the empty green house on Beckwith Street. I shook my head, as this was the day after the deadly New Jersey Boardwalk fire and I thought having a ‘burn house’ so close to the downtown was incredibly stupid. In fact, when they rushed back at 5 am for another crack at the house I was ready to walk down to the fire station on Coleman Street and give them a piece of my mind.

After a few days I cooled down and wondered why a fire department that has been in Carleton Place since 1875 could be so careless. It turns out the stupidity was on my part. Apparently these 24 dedicated volunteers and 2 full-time fire prevention officers know what they are doing. It is imperative for a fire department to be able to practice and train on life-saving techniques before you have to implement them. Some municipalities have ‘burn towers’, but for anything approaching reality, you need an actual house which is formally called a ‘live burn.”
In some cities it is considered too dangerous to be done on purpose. Some fire departments fill their burn house with smoke and old furniture and practice all the other techniques – rescue searches, breaching walls/ceilings, saving their own, ventilation and salvage and overhaul. Basically, they trash the place. Our local fire department gets to practice on a real structure, the neighborhood gets a show and the homeowner saves on demolition and hauling charges if they donate their home.

A house burn is absolutely the best possible training a fireman can get. They will torch a room, put it out, lather-rinse-repeat until they run out of rooms like they are doing on Beckwith Street. Did you know today’s homesburn 8 times faster because of new construction materials, especially engineered wood? Thirty years ago a family had approximately 8 minutes to exit their home – today it’s 2 minutes.

I also found out that our grandparents were a lot “greener” than today. Recently the Underwriter’s Laboratories of Canada did testing on home furnishings and found out that today’s average-sized room furnished with modern products can become engulfed in flames in 3 minutes, compared to 30 minutes 50 years ago.

So after my research I had to agree that having a ‘burn house’ is important to Carleton Place. Better to practice on an empty house than one filled with sleeping parents and a scared child hiding under the bed.

Photos- 1 and 3– Linda Seccaspina

             2-Jennifer Fenwick Irwin


About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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