Firefighter training to bring end to apartment complex
URBANA — The long-troubled Urbana Townhomes apartment complex will come to a fiery end later this month when firefighters get a rare chance to do live training in the condemned buildings.
With a demolition order and an open-air burn permit in hand, firefighters will set the complex ablaze several times this month and have a chance to practice their basic skills in an apartment setting. The complex is in the 900 and 1000 blocks of South Lierman Avenue.
Urbana Division Chief Chad Hensch said it's a rare opportunity to do live training in close quarters and a tight building.
"It's very valuable," Hensch said. "In this case here, we're dealing with an apartment complex. A lot of times you may train in a house, a smaller house or something that somebody wants torn down."
It will give firefighters from Champaign and Urbana, under the direction of instructors from the Illinois Fire Service Institute, a chance to attack a fire in close quarters, "stretch hose" and practice ventilating a building.
People in the area will notice a smoke odor and heavy presence of firefighters and equipment.
Hensch said firefighters will be putting to use their basic skills that they do not always get a good chance to practice outside of a real emergency.
Tthe buildings are unoccupied. Onlookers will have a chance to observe in a designated area, and firefighters will be standing by to protect nearby homes from floating embers, Hensch said.
"The nice thing about the complex is they're all basically the same layout," Hensch said. "So if we want to experiment, try different things, we can replicate it."
Training will take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Oct. 22, 23, 24, 26 and 27. Hensch said that sometime during the week of Nov. 1, firefighters will set fire to the apartment complex and watch it burn to the ground. Demolition crews will follow to clean up whatever is left over.
Some neighbors of the complex may take pleasure in watching it burn. It has long been blamed for property maintenance and some crime issues in the Lierman Avenue neighborhood.
The city began condemning the properties and moving residents out in 2011 after the buildings fell into such a state of disrepair that they were deemed unlivable. They were consequently boarded up, and the city took ownership of the properties in December 2012.
Local officials say a brighter future is in store for the property. The Housing Authority of Champaign County has been in discussions with the city of Urbana and a private developer to rebuild affordable housing.
Hensch said it is a great opportunity for firefighters to learn. He added that the neighborhood supports the demolition and is excited for the coming redevelopment.