Housing authority provides abandoned apartments for fire training

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Wilson Fire/Rescue Services doesn’t often find a still-standing building where the owner won’t complain if firefighters rev up a chainsaw and cut a hole in the roof or break down the front door and leave it hanging from its hinges.

But that is exactly the opportunity that the Wilson Housing Authority presented to the fire department in the form of 28 empty apartment units in its Whitfield Homes Public Housing area that are slated to be demolished by mid-October.

Until the units are all down, Wilson Fire/Rescue Services is using the empty buildings to train its firefighters and firefighters from other departments on a whole range of problems that they might confront during a real fire.

And they don’t have to worry about cleaning up behind them.

“There is great value to this training because the crews are able to train in a realistic setting,” said Deputy Fire Chief James Campbell, who heads up the department’s training division/special operations and safety.

“The houses that they are training in can be found in multiple areas of the community and the training gives the crews a better idea of the construction and layout of the houses,” Campbell said.

In addition to Wilson Fire/Rescue Services, the training opportunity has been offered to all Wilson County fire departments and the cadets enrolled at the Wilson Community College’s Fire/Rescue Academy.

“The opportunity of training in acquired structures does not come very often and when it does we try to maximize the training potential by offering it to our county mutual aid fire departments,” Campbell added.

At the units, firefighters and other personnel were able to hone their skills in forcible entry, ventilation, search and rescue, firefighter down rapid intervention, salvage and overhaul, hose-line advancement, scene size-up, victim removal, ladder operations and building construction.

“The vacant units provided have afforded crews the ability to work on skills in realistic settings that otherwise are only provided at real incidents or on simulated training props” said Capt. Jim Miller of Wilson Fire/Rescue Services.

“Using vacant housing units such as this provides real opportunities without having to simulate,” Miller said. “…This type of training is a huge asset to our department for newly hired personnel and skill development as well as current personnel and continued training to review and enhance skill sets.”

Troy Davis, the development director for the Wilson Housing Authority who helped coordinate this opportunity with the fire department, said offering up the soon-to-be demolished units to help first responders train made a ton of sense.

“Building and continuing our relationship with the firefighters and other first responders is important to the housing authority and it makes us feel good to help them polish their skills on buildings we are going to tear down,” Davis said.

The units being demolished are on Banks Street, Walnut Street and Dew Street.

All of the buildings were constructed in 1965 and had developed issues that made them structurally unsound and unfit for habitation.

The Wilson Housing Authority plans to clear the property of the existing structures and eventually build new units there to replace the demolished units and other units that were flooded in Hurricane Matthew and are not currently being lived in.