Hot training session for firefighters |

Hot training session for firefighters

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune A firefighter prepares to enter a burning house during training Wednesday.

Bob Hassett smiled while a fire – fueled by wood and diesel gas in a Yuban coffee can – reached the ceiling of a downstairs bedroom in his vacation house.

His wife, Tammy, took pictures with a digital camera. The fire cooked the room to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

The blaze was the work of South Shore firefighters who happily spent Wednesday at the Hassett’s former vacation house to conduct live fire drills.

Hassett, who operates Camp Richardson, wanted to open his 45-year-old house at the end of Saddle Road for firefighters before it’s demolished and another is built.

Last year the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department had one day of fire training at an old section of Sierra Community Church before the exercise was shut down because of asbestos. The crew walked away disappointed but followed the orders from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The church was an old memory Wednesday. Bob Hassett paid $1,000 for an asbestos inspection of his house while the necessary legal obligations were met.

Before the pile of wood and cardboard could be lit for the first drill, another hurdle appeared. A fire alarm in the Tahoe Keys arrived over the radios. Battalion Chief John Lilygren held his radio close to his ear. The alarm was within the city.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said.

Half a dozen firefighters with air masks and tanks exited the house. Two engines rolled to check out the alarm. During the wait one firefighter quoted the movie “Backdraft.” Capt. Brad Piazzo eyed a dry Christmas tree with a sly smile. He wanted to torch it.

Piazzo wanted the newer firefighters to understand how heat levels change with ventilation. Open windows or holes in a roof drive heat and smoke higher, clearing the floor for firefighters to attack a blaze.

The drill allowed the department an opportunity to use two thermal imaging cameras, which detect varying levels of heat during a fire. One, with a price tag of $15,000, was able to take digital pictures of the scene and withstand 1,000-degree heat for five minutes.

The SLTFD is raising money for one camera. Lilygren said they have about half of what they need.

Piazzo said the wood paneling in the room would ignite at 800 degrees Fahrenheit. He carefully watched a thermometer, knowing firefighters would stay in hotter conditions and possibly melt their mask.

“It wasn’t that hot,” he said afterward. “I could have taken a lot more. That’s the problem with this stuff.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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