BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — ‘It’s a baby boy!” announced Providence Township firefighter Mike Lord, watching a fully-geared Bryan Meko squeeze through a hole in the wall between two Whitehouse School classrooms.
“Some people look at that (hole) and think, ‘No way, I can’t get through there.’ You need to stay calm,” Lord told a group of firefighters standing in the old music classroom.
The old school – built as a K-12 in 1932 and used as an elementary after Anthony Wayne Schools consolidated in 1952 – is slated for demolition on March 11. The new Whitehouse Primary School was completed in December and students began attending classes on January 4.
The building, with its combination of older and newer construction, is an ideal hands-on learning environment, said Whitehouse Fire Chief Josh Hartbarger. Departments from Grand Rapids, Liberty Center, Monclova Township (MTFD), Providence Town-ship (PTFD), Waterville and Whitehouse trained in the building to hone firefighting skills.
PTFD Chief Richard Triggs said his crew practices forcible entry and search and rescue at least once a year, but training in the school allows them to set off alarms and fill the halls and rooms with smoke to make a more realistic setting.
Having permission to knock out walls and tear down doors is an opportunity that doesn’t come very often, Hartbarger said.
“We appreciate the relationship the district has with first responders in the area,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz. “We’re ecstatic that the 1932 building was used for their training purposes with many situations that can happen in our community.”
Inside a first floor classroom, Lord demonstrated several techniques for breaking open the solid wood doors in the school. Most newer schools have metal doors that would require cutters, he said.
Wall breaches are necessary when access through a door is impossible. To reach a victim in an adjacent room or for a firefighter to escape alive sometimes requires knocking out a wall, Lord explained.
“If you’re trapped, you should call mayday first,” Lord said. “This should be a last ditch effort.”
Squeezing through a small opening might seem impossible, especially for those with a larger frame made bulkier by turnout gear, air tank, helmet and hoses. The key is to to remain calm, Lord said.
With multiple floors and stairwells, the school is also ideal for hose advancement practice, said MTFD Capt. Michael Hampton III. Firefighters need training on how to move a 200-foot hose with 165 PSI of water.
“One person managing the hose can be pretty taxing. It’s not your typical garden hose,” he said.
MTFD Capt. Chad Born said the building is also ideal for training personnel on ladder truck operations, as the community doesn’t have many three-story buildings that aren’t occupied with businesses. Crews have to be on the lookout for overhead wires and trees before setting up.
“It’s so great to have a building like this to come out here and not bother everyone,” Born said.
Several firefighters re-turned to the building for a second training on March 1 — for the Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC). With National Honor Society students playing the role of victims, police practiced several scenarios on how to manage bringing in a team of medics to remove the injured while a second police team searched for the shooter.
“This is an ‘all hell breaks loose’ scenario,” Hartbarger said.
Training in a building where the alarms are going off gives those involved an understanding of the stress they might experience in the event of an emergency, said trainer Les Case. The noise alone makes communicating among teams difficult, and they relied on shouts and motions as they moved through the 1967 wing.
“Any time we can have hands-on training, we learn so much more. It’s much better than PowerPoint,” agreed Jeff Domer, a Waterville firefighter and Toledo Police officer.
For some, like MTFD Capt. Greg May – who attended Whitehouse Pri-mary School for a few years – training in the old school was filled with memories. His father, Whitehouse volunteer firefighter Bill May, and Waterville Fire Capt. Dave Beakas found handwritten letters that had fallen down behind lockers that were removed. One was a love letter from Jim Farnsworth to Carol Ann Haynes.
In January, the school district offered many of the furnishings for sale at govdeals.com, raising $19,357.57 for the school’s Permanent Improvement Fund.
For those who want a memento of the old school, bricks will be saved and made available at a later date, Fritz said. Demolition is expected to start Wednesday, March 11 and continue through April 20. Anyone watching should park in the parking lot across the street and avoid parking on Texas Street between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. To view the process, stand in the north parking lot.