Burned to the Ground

Jamie Heap
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Parrsboro Fire Department Holds Live Burn on Harrison Store

Parrsboro Volunteer Fire Department Firefighters James Shaw and Captain Alex Matthews watch the fire that they lit Sunday that fully engulfed the Old Harrison store in Newville Lake as part of a Live Burn exercise held by the Parrsboro Fire Department. Firefighters from Springhill, Joggins and Fox River-Port Greville-Wards Brook (FPW) also participated in this learning experience.

NEWVILLE LAKE-Volunteer firefighters from Parrsboro, Springhill, Joggins and FPW (Fox River-Port Greville-Wards Brook) participated in a live burn exercise on Sunday.

The old abandoned store of the Harrison family, situated adjacent to the R & R Woodworking building just past the West Brook Flat, was burned to the ground.

“When Raymond Harrison asked me if we (Parrsboro Volunteer Fire Department) would be interested in using this building to burn, I said yes,” stated Parrsboro Fire Chief Randy Mosher. “Anytime we can burn something and learn from it, we’ll do it,” he added. 

Lawrence Nicoll, a retired training officer with the Toronto Fire Department, said that there are several benefits of live burn exercises such as this one. “It gives firefighters a live experience with fire without putting them in danger,” he said. “It also helps with looking at burn patterns as well. The fire will talk to you, if you let it,” added Nicoll.

John West, a retired city of Calgary firefighter with 31 years experience, has been putting out fires down shore for the past five years or so with the FPW Volunteer Fire Department. “If you are able to go into a building and knock the fire down before it gets of control, you will actually be able to see the burn marks in the floor,” West explained to several county firefighters. “You will also be able to determine the source of the fire too.”

Prior to Parrsboro firefighters Alex Matthews and James Shaw’s setting of a fire that would prove fatal for the old Harrison store, they lit a less involved one so that firefighters such as James Brundage, a firefighter volunteering with the Springhill Volunteer Fire Department, could take the time to examine burn marks in its floor.

One of the challenges that rural firefighters face is response time. “The part of this building facing the road was built in the 1930s with bigger, tightly packed wood,” stated Mosher. “However, the other part of the building contains trestles from the 1970s.”

Needless to say, newer wood, as well as plastic siding, creates problems for firefighter response time. “By creating a timeline, which we will be typing up and sharing with other fire departments from around the county,” stated Mosher, “we will be able to justify the time it takes to respond to a fire so that people cannot come back on us and say ‘Why you didn’t you do more,” added Mosher. It took 26 minutes for the second, more involved fire to become fully engulfed, a mere minute more than firefighter John West had estimated.

Smoke, an incomplete sign of combustion, gets darker the closer that it gets to a fully engulfed fire. “Smoke itself will burn if it gets hot enough,” explained West.

“You might be able to survive a back draft, but you won’t survive a flashover” he added.

According to West, flashovers occur at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit when items, including furniture, reach their burning points. “You can feel the heat from that building from 100 feet away,” said West of the fully engulfed 30 by 80 foot building. “Just imagine the heat that would be produced from the burning of a three-storey furniture store,” he said.

An aerial fire truck from the Springhill Volunteer Fire Department was used to create a curtain by spraying water above the fire so that nearby trees would not catch on fire.

“This has been a learning experience today for everyone, including me,” stated Mosher.


Organizations: R R Woodworking, Parrsboro Volunteer Fire Department, Toronto Fire Department Springhill Volunteer Fire Department FPW Volunteer Fire Department

Geographic location: Parrsboro, Fox River, Port Greville-Wards Brook Calgary

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