BOONE — Spirits were high at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, as local fire departments came together to participate in a controlled burn training exercise. Firefighters from Boone, Blowing Rock, Cove Creek and Meat Camp were in attendance with approximately 40 individuals onsite at any given time. As a safety precaution, members of the Watauga County Rescue Squad were also there to take vital signs before and after firefighters completed training.
Lonnie Propst, a battalion chief from Boone, said that the fire was started using wooden pallets, straw and a diesel fuel mix.
“We’re doing a simulation, so we’re very much in control,” said Propst. He added that the color of smoke is very important in determining when the fire is becoming too “deep-seated.”
The white smoke that could be seen early in the morning was white because it was “mostly the wooden pallets and straw” since the fire was just set, but around noon, the smoke turned darker.
“Brown and black smoke means that the fire is actually burning the structure of the house,” Propst said.
Anthony Miller from the Office of N.C. Emergency Management and Urban Search and Rescue was also at the exercise to “observe the behavior of a regular house fire.” This research helps specialists document burn patterns and predict how quickly structures will burn based on materials used.
Caroline Smith, professor of exercise science at Appalachian State University, is conducting research regarding the detrimental effects that being in such extreme temperatures has on a person. To assist with her research, she and her assistants were onsite to collect samples, readings and statements from firefighters after they completed the training.
“I think we’re tuning ourselves in better to all of the dangers, but it’s not a quick fix,” Propst said. “The smoke is one thing, but there’s a lot of danger that comes with the gear.”
Hopefully, Propst said, researchers like Smith will be able to pinpoint dangers that have previously been overlooked in order to give firefighters the best chance of getting out of every fire unharmed.