Firefighters practice their craft

Everyone gathers around in a meeting before the training drill began. Plans and safety measures are checked and re-checked to ensure the safety of everyone involved. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)

By Darlene Paterson
Empire Press Correspondent

Firefighters from Chelan, Manson and Mansfield joined Orondo firefighters on the evening of May 16, for a practice fire drill as they burned the old Sonney homestead in Orondo.

According to Bryan Harper, grandson-in-law and current owner of the property, the house had been uninhabited for a number of years and was too run down to be repaired. “I have been cleaning up the property,” he said. “We were going to tear the house down, and then I thought maybe the fire department could benefit from it, so I contacted Chief Oatey. He said they would love to use it for a training mission. I had to take out all the asbestos and board it up in preparation for the burn.”

Excitement was in the air as firefighters, their families and community members gathered to watch. Eight fire engines and support vehicles attracted passersby while firemen donned their fire gear and gathered for training instruction.

In addition to firefighters who would enter the building during the training mission, others served as support staff.

“I will be in the engine on the south side of the fire, on standby in case they need me as contingency,” Chuck Podlich said. “Training is a lot different than it was 30 years ago when I first joined the volunteers. It was pretty loose back then. Now we have plans, operating procedures and accountability. This is all good.”

Other fire personnel manned the water truck, the oxygen tank trailer and rehab station. “We are the rehab tent, but we don’t have a tent,” Allison Podlich Harkey laughed.

“But we do have shade,” her fellow EMT, Tammy Zanol added. Harkey and Zanol, the newest Orondo EMTs, completed their training last summer. Working rehab for the event, their duty is to get the firefighters cooled down and hydrated after exiting the burning building.

“By the end of the evening that building will be gone,” Fire Chief Jim Oatey said. “We are going to light about seven small fires, build them up and then make entry and put them out. We send in a group for a build up, they come out and a second group goes in to build up the fire and hose it down again. We work our way through like that. It gives everyone a little bit of experience.”

“The fact they can practice is huge. This is a big training thing. Its great practice and kind of exciting for our firefighters,” he added.

Teams of two firefighters went into the building at a time while several others pushed and pulled the hose in and out as needed.

The firefighters wore heavy fire gear and were equipped with oxygen tanks and masks. After exiting the building from their turn, they went to rehab for cool down and then removed their air tanks to be refilled.

Starting with upstairs rooms, firefighters worked their way down to the main floor. Everyone who wished to participate in the training drill had a chance to go in before they finally let the whole building burn.

Oatey assigned his assistant chief, Jeff Zanol, to be incident command of the burn. “Jim likes to share command with his guys. They are all leaders,” Oatey’s wife Jennifer commented.

Craig Vivian, Mansfield fire chief, assisted Zanol in supervising the firefighters. Vivian’s wife Dana and son Colton took pictures and videos with their drone during the burn.

The drill wrapped up about 9:30 pm. “We had firefighters on the scene monitoring the fire until midnight,” Chief Oatey said. “We had a busy evening, but got to complete some valuable training,” he concluded.

The team prepares oxygen tanks, hooking them up and getting them ready for use.

Rehab workers, Allison Podlich Harkey and Tammy Zanol stand eager to lend assistance to the fellows that will soon come to them for recovery. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)

The Sonney house burned supervised into the evening after the fire drills were finished. (Provided photo/Jim Oatey)

The skeletal remains of the Sonney homestead sit charred and smoldering in the aftermath of the fire drill. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)

Inside the house, the fire is set and smoke begins to pour from the building. (Empire Press photo/Darlene Paterson)