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OPINION: Firefighters need practice

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REBECCA CLARK BROTHERS, Community columnist

Firefighters need practice to be prepared when a real emergency occurs. Most of the houses used for controlled live-fire training are ready for demolition, so it is a win/win situation for everyone involved. The city loses an eyesore and the firefighters gain practice. Saturday, local fire departments participated in a live-fire training. The 1895 built farmhouse at 1405 N. Third St. was not demolition worthy.

According to a recent article in The Kentucky Standard, only structurally sound buildings are used as training, yet in November 2015, in Prospect Heights, Ill., three houses set for demolition were used for training. In the Prospect Heights incident, over a dozen fires were set in different parts of the houses and lasted a week.

“In one week we gain one year of experience,” said Fire Chief Gould. “We are able to learn lessons that will translate to improved performance when citizens need us the most.”

Before a building is burned by the firefighters, precautions are taken to ensure safety. Windows are boarded. Carpets are stripped and floors are deemed sturdy. Presence of asbestos is also checked. No mention of concern about lead paint, used until 1978, has been found. Even with the benefits of a controlled training, danger is present. According to NBC News and the Associated Press in an article dated Sept. 25, 2009, firefighters have died. “Three firefighters were trapped by flames and perished in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Milford Township, Mich., during a controlled burn in 1987.” Also, in 2007, “a fire recruit was killed in a training exercise in a Baltimore row house.” A small number compared to the number of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Why are buildings, some deemed livable, destroyed? Money. Having the fire department use your building as a training exercise is free. Even though the fire department burns the building, the owner pays for the cleaning of the land. If the mortgage is paid, then the donation of the building may be tax deductible. Controversy ensues about whether donating a building the owner does not want should be tax deductible. The fire department is not a charity. For any type of tax deduction, a person donates to a charity, the person does not gain anything in return. Saving money on destroying a building you want to be rid of is not donating to charity. People try using the value of the home as a deduction. The IRS fights this plan. Some people have won against the IRS, but others have not. If the building and the land were donated, then perhaps the transaction is tax deductible.

Title IX of Bloomfield’s General Regulations under Chapter 92 Nuisances states that basically if the city deems a building a nuisance through abandonment, damaged by fire, dilapidated, decayed, unsafe, etc., the city can force the owners to remove the structure.

A couple of years ago, the city enforced this law and forced owners to remove the houses on Hill Street, the predominately African-American neighborhood. One homeowner was up to date on her ancestral home’s property taxes but was still forced to have her deceased grandparents’ empty home destroyed. All the homes chosen for demolition were in need of repair.

There are other structures in Nelson County that should and may be on the demolition list. Instead of destroying beautiful, salvageable and historical homes as the one at 1405 N. Third St., perhaps the city and county officials should incorporate their ordinances and partner with the local fire departments and have the firefighters practice on the buildings already destined for the landfill.