Fire departments to use closed apartments for training

Fire departments to use closed apartments for training

RANTOUL — The village won't become home to the Fire Service Institute, but it might seem like it to many residents later this spring.

More than 20 fire departments will come to the community in intervals to take part in training at five apartment buildings at the closed Autumn Glen apartment complex.

Rantoul Fire Chief Ken Waters said virtually every fire department in Champaign County plus departments from a number of other area communities will take part in the training beginning in March.

The instruction will stretch over two months and is being conducted by the Rantoul Fire Department in conjunction with the Illinois Fire Service Institute, which is in charge of the classes and training scenerios. Mike Dilly, Urbana fire chief, who is head of investigations for the fire services in Champaign County, will set up scenerios in some of the apartments to be burned so that his investigative team will be able to get realistic training first hand.

The village board agreed last year to have ownership of the property, which is located on Hobson Drive, transferred from the Bank of Rantoul to the village. The goal is to clean up the site, which consists of 16 apartment buildings containing eight apartments each.

Asbestos has been removed from five of the buildings, and those five will be included in the firefighter training this year. Asbestos will be removed from additional buildings in future years.

As part of the training, Waters said, Dilley will set up scenarios in various rooms of apartment buildings. The training will be as realistic as possible.

The sessions start the week of March 24.

The first departments scheduled to take part that first week are Rantoul, Thomasboro, Gifford and Ludlow.

Wood pallets, straw and paper will be brought in to be burned.

"We will let the rooms burn and flash over, and we'll go in and put them out," Waters said. "We'll leave them intact once they're out."

The following week the investigative team from each of the departments will examine the burned rooms. People will be brought in to pose as neighbors and will tell the investigators what they saw.

"They'll dig out the scene and see how it started, where it started," Waters said.

Causes could range from an electric heater plugged into an outlet to a cigarette left to smolder on a bed or mattress to a cooking fire.

Different departments will get their turn to battle fires and investigate.

In April, additional training in ventilation and overhaul of buildings will be undertaken.

Training will wind up in mid-May.

"Then at that time we'll burn (the apartment buildings down)," Waters said, adding that the project will probably happen in June.

Other participating fire departments in the other training will be Sangamon Valley (Fisher), Bement, Sadorus, Northern Piatt (Mansfield), Seymour, Ivesdale, Broadlands-Longview, Philo, St. Joseph, Eastern Prairie (north Champaign), Edge Scott (east Urbana), Ogden-Royal, Champaign, Urbana, Paxton, Mid-Piatt, Bondville, Corn Belt (Mahomet), Pesotum, Tolono, Savoy, Homer, Carroll (northeast Urbana), University of Illinois-Willard, Villa Grove and Fithian-Muncie-Collison.

Village Inspector Dan Culkin told the village board a glitch in paperwork has delayed transfer of ownership of Autumn Glen to the village. Dennis Long, Bank of Rantoul, Co-CEO, said a form needs to be filled out and sent by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to complete the property transfer.

"We expect a fairly quick resolution," Long said.

Culkin said he doesn't believe the paperwork will hold up the cleanup.

Culkin said the village hopes the site will be completely cleared within the next five years.

As for the future for the site, Culkin said it will be "open space eventually ... and connect it with the park that is there."

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