Firefighters train amid flames of house slated for destruction

The house had to go.

“We needed to take this house down,” owner Sally Knoll said.

The house wasn’t unsalvageable. But Knoll and her family have big plans for this stretch of Horse Creek Drive in Jefferson County, so the house on the scenic lake disappeared Saturday – thanks to a few local fire departments searching for an opportunity to train. Knoll plans to turn her 180 acres into a retreat for corporate or church groups, and the slightly damaged house was in the way.

So she contacted the city of Perry/Kentucky Township Fire Department who, along with the Sarcoxie and Ozawkie departments, agreed to level the house with flames to allow their crews a chance to train in a burning house.

Sarcoxie Fire Chief Doug Schmitt laid out the day’s plans. First, firefighters would battle some smaller blazes upstairs in the two-story house.

Then, he said, once the house became unsafe, they’d burn it all the way down.

Crews dropped thick pumps into the lake for water, then spent time suiting up, strapping on oxygen tanks and gas masks and getting their pulses checked by medical crews at the scene.

Finally, Perry Fire Chief Dave Warriner gathered everyone up for one last pep talk.

It’s going to be the real deal in there, Warriner said. Sure, it’s just a drill – but the flames are real, and real dangerous.

“If you get in trouble, back out of there,” he told the group chock full of rookies.

Then he paired the rookies with firefighters who had walked among flames before. The first group of four locked their oxygen hoses in place, then dragged a hose up the home’s stairs.

For a time, the house stood quiet. Water snapped the fire hose taut as smoke began to trickle from an upstairs window.

Suddenly, an ax burst through the window and smoke rushed out.

“Let’s go!” Warriner shouted at the next group, and four more firefighters trotted into the house.

The sky above the house filled with acrid smoke in minutes. By mid-afternoon, it could be seen for miles.

The departments ran through a handful of drills – including simple room fires and more complicated rescues – with firefighters using matchbooks to burn prop mattresses to start each fire.

The house wasn’t in bad shape by the time firefighters lit the last fire around 3:30 p.m. But the Ozawkie truck that had been refilling their oxygen tanks left, so they pulled the plug on the drills and let the home burn to the ground.