Squads Join Forces for Fire Exercise

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Training Exercise Draws Crowd To Waterfront
By Josh Perttunen


The south side of the first storage building begins to collapse. Firefighters from the three participating departments in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Brevort Township allowed the buildings to burn to the ground as part of a controlled burn exercise. The firefighters’ goal was to prevent fires of this size from spreading to surrounding buildings and properties as they burn. The south side of the first storage building begins to collapse. Firefighters from the three participating departments in St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Brevort Township allowed the buildings to burn to the ground as part of a controlled burn exercise. The firefighters’ goal was to prevent fires of this size from spreading to surrounding buildings and properties as they burn. Firefighters from the St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Brevort Township fire departments gathered at the Shepler’s Ferry property in St. Ignace Wednesday, September 28, for the largest controlled burn exercise in several years. Their mission was to keep the conflagration from spreading as two storage warehouses were ignited and burned to the ground, said Mackinac County 9-1-1 Coordinator and St. Ignace Fire Captain Bryce Tracy, who organized the fire drill.

Part of this goal was accomplished by creating water curtains between the burning buildings and the larger freight warehouse that wasn’t slated for demolition. In this firefighting procedure, men and women aimed their hoses upward to create a wall of water, neutralizing most of the heat kicked out by the burning building so that it didn’t catch any surrounding buildings or properties on fire.


Mackinaw City Fire Department volunteer firefighter Pat Wyman maintains his half of a water curtain at a training exercise in St. Ignace Wednesday, September 28. This is a defensive strategy where two streams of water from opposite sides cross each other, creating a wall of water that will neutralize stray ashes and embers. The Mackinaw City, Brevort Township, and St. Ignace fire departments all collaborated in this drill. Verbal instructions given an hour before the blazes were set reinforced that spirit of cooperation, instructing firefighters to follow the commands of higher-ranking officers, regardless of whether they are from another department or their own. Mackinaw City Fire Department volunteer firefighter Pat Wyman maintains his half of a water curtain at a training exercise in St. Ignace Wednesday, September 28. This is a defensive strategy where two streams of water from opposite sides cross each other, creating a wall of water that will neutralize stray ashes and embers. The Mackinaw City, Brevort Township, and St. Ignace fire departments all collaborated in this drill. Verbal instructions given an hour before the blazes were set reinforced that spirit of cooperation, instructing firefighters to follow the commands of higher-ranking officers, regardless of whether they are from another department or their own. A burst of water from a ladder truck negated any errant ashes that floated down. It was important that the shingled roof be sprayed from above, since a stream shot from ground level could tear the shingles off.


St. Ignace Fire Department Captain and 9-1-1 Coordinator Bryce Tracy (center) barks out orders to firefighters from St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Brevort Township at the controlled burn exercise Wednesday, September 28. His instructions to firefighters are that they should put safety first, take the drill seriously, and work as a team. St. Ignace Fire Department Captain and 9-1-1 Coordinator Bryce Tracy (center) barks out orders to firefighters from St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, and Brevort Township at the controlled burn exercise Wednesday, September 28. His instructions to firefighters are that they should put safety first, take the drill seriously, and work as a team. The water for this exercise was pumped from two locations in Moran Bay.

Before the first flame blossomed from a collection of dried wood in the buildings, Mr. Tracy stood in the middle of a huddle of firefighters and barked out orders.

“No matter what happens, this is about safety first,” he told them. “If you’re around the buildings, make sure you have your gear on. There’s no reason to run tonight. Watch where you walk and don’t trip.”


Fred Feleppa, a volunteer with the St. Ignace Fire Department, watches as one of two warehouse buildings on the Shepler’s Ferry property in St. Ignace ignites. No matter what role a team member plays in a defensive exercise, much may be learned from observing how the fire behaves. This type of live training is invaluable to all who participate in it, says Bryce Tracy. The planned drill lasted a couple of hours and razed two storage buildings to the ground. Fred Feleppa, a volunteer with the St. Ignace Fire Department, watches as one of two warehouse buildings on the Shepler’s Ferry property in St. Ignace ignites. No matter what role a team member plays in a defensive exercise, much may be learned from observing how the fire behaves. This type of live training is invaluable to all who participate in it, says Bryce Tracy. The planned drill lasted a couple of hours and razed two storage buildings to the ground. He also reinforced the spirit of cooperation among all of the departments.

“When you are given an order, you follow it no matter who has given it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is a St. Ignace guy, a Mackinaw City guy, or a guy from Brevort Township.”


Bryce Tracy, who organized the controlled burn exercise, watches as flames begin to force their way out of the smaller storage building Wednesday, September 28. Bryce Tracy, who organized the controlled burn exercise, watches as flames begin to force their way out of the smaller storage building Wednesday, September 28. The firsthand knowledge gained at such exercises provides valuable experience to all involved, Mr. Tracy said. It is important to see how a live fire behaves. Even in a controlled environment, the fire is powerful enough to command respect. At some points, those whose only task was to observe the fire could feel the heat on their faces from 100 feet away.

“Sometimes we’ll put the firefighters in positions they haven’t experienced in some time,” Mr. Tracy said, “and that new firefighters may not have experienced outside of training.”

The fire departments like to train in live exercises whenever they can, he said.


Firefighter Paul Downey (left) explains the different stages the burning building will go through to Chris Shepler. Firefighter Paul Downey (left) explains the different stages the burning building will go through to Chris Shepler. “It’s an important tool in the entire training process. It makes us more efficient in performing our duties during actual calls,” he said. “It enhances everyone’s safety and emergency awareness in real situations.”

No one ventured into the buildings during this exercise other than to light the fires.

Collectively, the buildings marked for demolition had been used to house maintenance equipment, bro- chures, a steering mechanism for the Icebreaker Mackinaw, and also to provide secure parking for customers of Shepler’s Ferry. Owner Chris Shepler said he plans to build a larger warehouse that can accommodate more parking.

“We needed to increase our space for secured parking for transient guests,” he said. “We were either going to tear them down ourselves or do this. This option provided a valuable service to the community and its firefighters.”

Firefighters are always looking for these types of opportunities, Mr. Tracy said. Anyone interested in donating their residential or commercial building for training exercises may call their local department.

This had been the largest such exercise in recent years, Mr. Tracy said. The black smoke billowing into the night sky drew a crowd of spectators to the waterfront. As the flames reached into the night sky, traffic on the side streets slowed to a crawl as motorists watched the scene.

2011-10-06 / Front Page

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