Plans to demolish an aging church created an opportunity for a multi-agency training burn.
LONG BEACH — It was a Sunday morning service unlike any other.
On March 15, a few dozen spectators — mostly church members — gathered to watch a fire training at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses north of Long Beach.
The burn was made possible through a cooperative arrangement with the local congregation and fire departments in Pacific, Wahkiakum and Cowlitz counties.
Citing concerns about the condition of the small, 40-year-old church, local Jehovah’s Witnesses petitioned the church’s governing body for approval to replace their Kingdom Hall with a more modern facility. When they received approval, they agreed to let Pacific County Fire District No. 1 host a practice burn on the site.
Due to the region’s wet weather, fires are relatively rare, so agencies sometimes schedule training burns to help firefighters keep their skills fresh.
On Sunday morning, professional and volunteer firefighters from PCFD No. 1, Raymond Fire Department, Wahkiakum County Fire Protection District No. 4, and Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue practiced skills such as working on the roof of a burning building, removing windows, flooding a structure with water and using a sophisticated new type of nozzle. For the final drill, about 30 firefighters crowded into the dark, wet building to watch as PCFD No. 1 Division Chief Mike Karvia demonstrated a new dance-step-like technique for pulling a fire hose into a burning building.
Then, a team lit a controlled fire so firefighters could practice their skills in the presence of heat, smoke, steam and raining ash. Outside, a volunteer support team provided refreshment and monitored firefighters, checking vital signs and trading out exhausted air tanks.
In late afternoon, the firefighters cleared out and supervisors gave the “all-clear” signal — a deafening blast of the fire engines’ horns. It was time to let the building burn in earnest.
While a looming storm suddenly darkened skies and whipped the trees around, a roaring blaze climbed interior walls and burst through the holes in the roof. Within an hour, the roof began collapsing into the interior. Door hinges melted, walls sagged and fell in. A contractor in a trackhoe moved in to scoop up piles of smoking rubble.
On the lawn, spectators in safety helmets clustered underneath umbrellas. One church member said he was sad to watch the demise of a place that was filled with happy memories, but excited to be making way for a new and improved building.
Members of the congregation said the Jehovah’s Witness church has its own construction company, and the company has a reputation for lightning-fast work. The new Kingdom Hall should be ready in a matter of weeks.