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Firefighters conduct training by burning of a vacant church
Smoke from a controlled burn training exercise in Lathrop on Sunday was visible from as far away as Ripon and prompted a flurry of 911 calls reporting the blaze. The joint training operation – which also included the Manteca Fire Department – will continue next Monday.

The 911 calls came flooding in over the weekend when the Lathrop Manteca Fire District carried out a planned training operation at a vacant church on a lot between Manteca and Lathrop.

And they’re going to be doing the same thing next week.

According to Lathrop Manteca Division Chief Larry Madoski, the training exercises came as the result of months of planning and permitting to remove the old buildings and conduct a safe and thorough training exercise that benefits firefighters by providing a scenario that can’t be replicated in many training facilities.

While the 911 calls about the black smoke that the exercises generated caused concern in the community, Madoski said that he would rather people call than not when they see something that is out of the ordinary.

“When we do these things, we get a lot of calls about assumptions – people think that there’s a fire and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Madoski said. “We actually pride ourselves that we have a community that knows that something isn’t right – a community that sees dark black smoke and has predetermined that something isn’t right, so they call it in.

“We would rather have that than a community that doesn’t care.”

While training facilities in neighboring communities offer the opportunity to conduct controlled burns inside of concrete or tiled buildings that allow for the fire not to impact the integrity of the building itself, using actual dwellings – like the church that was used over the weekend, and the residential properties that will be used next week – allow for firefighters to see fire behaving in a way similar to what they would see inside of a residential structure fire.

According to Madoski, elements like attics, spaces between walls, and residential building materials like shake roofs allow for invaluable experience for firefighters who get to see the way fire behaves in natural environments.

“We had to get some demolition permits and jump through some hoops, but we’re thankful for the opportunity to do this,” Madoski said. “It’s a great experience for our firefighters to see how the contents of a room and a house react and interact with today’s consumable materials – it’s a great opportunity to learn and prepare.”

Because using an actual structure doesn’t provide the safeguards that specialized training facilities do, Madoski said that live training exercises like these require careful planning – and in this case, collaboration with neighboring agencies like the City of Manteca.

The collaboration, Madoski said, benefits both agencies when applying for a review with the company that provides the rates for fire insurance.

“It’s good to have automatic aid partners that take these training opportunities as seriously as we do, and that’s what we see with Manteca,” Madoski said. “It’s important to work together, and this is a great chance for that to happen.”

The next collaborative training exercise is scheduled to take place near the intersection of Yosemite and McKinley Avenues on Monday, April 5. Smoke in that area – which may be visible from as far away as Ripon – will be from the training exercise.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.