ICE LAKE—Fighting a large scale barn fire is not something many Island firefighters have a great deal of experience with. It was with this in mind that the Gore Bay/Gordon-Barrie Island Fire Department held a mock fire demonstration with the permission of Max Burt at his Ice Lake farm.
“No, most if not all of us have no exposure in dealing with a really large barn fire,” said Duncan Sinclair, deputy fire chief of the Gore Bay Fire Department. He pointed out that firefighter Dave Hillyard brought forward the idea of having a mock fire demonstration at a farm. “Dave took the opportunity and jumped on the idea.”
Mr. Burt said, “I sanctioned the fire scene with the fire department” and had outlined some of the things for firefighters to look for, he told the Recorder, noting he was not actually on the scene of the exercise himself.
“I know the firefighters realized they would be incapable of putting out a barn fire as quickly as they thought they could,” said Mr. Burt. “This was disappointing to them, and it is to me, but it is all part of the magnitude and the complexity of a fire taking place on a farm.”
Mr. Burt outlined that one thing that small farms like his have on hand and farmers work with that can be a potential hazard if a fire breaks out “is the bulk storage tanks we have outside, all the lubricants around and propane, for example. And when you have 900 500-pound bales of hay stored in a barn there is a lot of energy. Hay, straw and grain are all combustible items and they provide a lot of BTUs of energy; they create an immense amount of heat and could actually act as fuel in a fire.”
As well, he said there are other things like bulk fuel stored on a farm, and there is fuel used in many different pieces of farm equipment, especially older farm equipment. “We use chainsaws at times, and there can be a gallon gas nearby, or an open pail of some other type of liquids that can be a big problem as well if a fire breaks out.”
As was presented in the mock fire scene, “there are other challenges to take into consideration. For instance, there might be limited, say one access, to a barn that is on fire. If there was a fire in Gore Bay on the Main Street, firefighters would be able to reach the building on that street or by back streets, because there is a lot of room for fire vehicles.” In the mock fire exercise, due to the large amount of snow and the access to the barn being limited by having a large piece of farm equipment in the way, “the firefighters had to pull the fire hoses a lot further than they would normally have to, or like to.”
Mr. Burt noted his old frame barn had been rebuilt in 1918 after a fire had taken it out years before. A separate, “new barn on my property that we constructed is 200 feet away from the next building and in a location that is remote, and the building is steel-clad,” said Mr. Burt. “It is like an insurance policy, having this building away from others.”
There is also the issue of livestock handling. “There is a risk in a fire to firefighters as it is difficult to move livestock, especially cattle, around. And you don’t want to get into a tight space with a bull because they can take a man out if they don’t want you around. In the case of a fire it is better to release the livestock and worry about this later. Although if you live on a highway-roadway and do this it can bring on a whole other chain of events involving vehicles and motorists. There can be a lot of unintended consequences.”
“And for most farms around Manitoulin, a lot of the equipment that we use is older more antiquated type equipment, like roll-over tractors and farm trucks,” said Mr. Burt. “We plow money back into our operations, and there are few farmers that have money to travel to the Cayman Islands or Mexico for holidays. We put what we make into our farms.”
“We invest back into our farms as best as we can,” said Mr. Burt. And when things take place that are unexpected, “insurance never replaces everything we have lost. How many barn cave-ins have we seen this year, and there is always the worry that something like a mouse chewing a bare wire can set off a fire.”
“It is part of the hazards of this industry, we have more stuff on hand than the average person. The volume of stuff and risk is proportionate to that,” continued Mr. Burt. “It would be nice if the province put in guidelines and supports that farmers have to replace their barns every 30 years, but we don’t see this happening.”
Mr. Sinclair said that in he and Mr. Hillyard setting the mock scene, “I had reported to everyone (firefighters) that it was a hay bale fire. But when everyone was on scene I told them it was a hay bailer on fire, right beside the barn which is full of hay, and that there was 75 head of cattle in the barn. And Burt Family Farm makes their own biodiesel fuels, so there are lots of potential hazards around the farm.”
“What we are trying to put together is real-life scenarios,” said Mike Addison, Gore Bay/Gordon-Barrie Island fire chief. He pointed out a similar real life scenario exercise was held in early December at the docks in Gore Bay,
“In the case of the mock fire at Max’s there is fuel storage, propane and animals to be considered,” said Mr. Addison. “We try to make the mock exercise as real as possible. It was great that Max let us do this at his farm. He acknowledged Mr. Sinclair and Mr. Hillyard had developed this scenario for the firefighters to take part in. “This exercise will allow the members of our fire department a better idea of what happens at a farm fire.”
As part of the scenario, a tractor was put in the way of the firefighters trying to get to the scene with their water hoses. “The first question was how many guys could start a tractor?” noting no one on hand had this knowledge. “So everyone had to drag the fire hose about 500 yards in the cold and snow.”
Mr. Sinclair pointed out, “the firefighters had to drag the fire hoses some 500 feet of hose, through the snow and understandably their tongues were hanging out by the time they completed this.” To add to the mock exercise, firefighters dealt with one of the fire department having to deal with being trampled by a cow, and that a water hose on the pumper blew out.”
“I thought everything went really well,” stated Mr. Hillyard. “And it was a great exercise, especially since it was something that provided a different scenario for our fire department to consider, and how they would put the fire out. Kyle Burt acted as the farmer in this exercise, playing the part of the owner of the farm, even yelling at the fire command personnel that they needed to do something with the cattle.”
“Most of the firefighters are not farmers, and only two or three of us have experience working on a farm. So this was a great experience for everyone,” added Mr. Hillyard.
Every member of the local fire department, except for two members, were on the scene at the mock exercise.