House burned to ground in 'win-win situation'
Brantford The Expositor
A two-storey house on Burtch Road burned to rubble Sunday thanks to Brant County firefighters, who stood back and watched the flames for a while.
With the full encouragement of the new property owner, the volunteer firefighters ran a controlled burn on the home, which was once the toll-keeper’s house at the foot of the Cockshutt Bridge but was moved to its existing location around a hundred years ago.
Now owned by Pam Seatle, a retired longtime newscaster with Toronto’s Citytv, the house was uninhabitable and slated for demolition.

“It was the former owner of the property, Pete Belanco, who gave me the idea of getting the fire department involved and using it as a training exercise,” said Seatle.

Following an extensive set of rules, firefighters inspected the house before placing hay and skids in the basement and lighting the materials with a propane torch.

“We’re well known for putting out fires but we do set a lot of fires in training” said deputy district fire chief Justin Whalen.” So, we’re pretty good at that as well.”

By creating a working basement fire, firefighters were able to put into practice what they learn in the classroom. They observed how quickly the fire spread, identified smoke colours and patterns and then jumped into action to douses the flames.

“This was a good experience for a lot of the new firefighters because they haven’t seen it before,” said Whalen. “And it benefits the community because an uninhabitable house is removed, plus it helps the homeowner out with demolition costs. It’s a win-win situation.”

The firefighters were able to run through setting up and tearing down equipment at a fire scene. And, because the home was far from the county’s fire hydrant system, they were able to practise working with portatanks – large portable “ponds” that were filled by a tanker that moved back and forth between the fire and the nearest water hydrants.

“You need a lot of water to fight a fire,” said firefighter William Wood, who is based out of the Mount Pleasant fire hall.

Thousands of litres of water poured on a controlled burn of a Burtch Road house created steam clouds in the area Sunday afternoon. For this exercise, the firefighters didn’t spend time in the burning house but practised attacking the fire completely from outside.

“It’s definitely an odd feeling to watch it burn,” admitted Wood. “But you get to try out some things and practise skills.”

The process was documented so that it can be used in training.

A portion of Burtch Road was closed on Sunday to accommodate the exercise.


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