Firefighters using Harvey-ravaged home for training in Bellaire

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Firefighters using Harvey-ravaged home for training in Bellaire, Deborah Wrigley reports. (KTRK)

For two weeks, Bellaire firefighters have made scheduled visits to a large vacant home. Fire trucks sit idle in front, but neighbors have grown accustomed to the activity.

"This house donated to the Bellaire Fire Department for Training," a sign reads.

Not exactly donated, but certainly on loan until the home is razed.

Before Harvey, the nearly 6,000 square foot house, was home to an empty-nester couple. Flood water damaged the lower floor. The decision was made to sell, and another Bellaire couple bought it as the site of the dream house they intend to build.

Jack Brandt, the new owner, contacted the fire department and offered the use of the house for training.

"It's a two and a half story house, with everything you'd normally see in a newer Bellaire home, and from what I understand, they don't usually get to train in that type of environment," he said.

Shift Commander Deacon Tittel agreed.

"In my years with Bellaire, we've never had a house of this size to work with before. We've trained in original Bellaire houses, which are small and one story. This gives us a lot of opportunities to train on tall roofs, seeing how smoke spreads upstairs."

What sheetrock wasn't cut out after the flood water receded, firefighters have attacked with axes, practicing how to gain access to closed spaces. A skylight was broken out by crews. A wood banister lay in pieces on a marble floor. Firefighters were studying what material it contained, and the strength of the stair spindles.

Brandt smiled when he saw the crews training.

"It looks like real smoke with the fog machine," he said. "They're going to get actual training on what it would be, if, God forbid, there was a fire somewhere and they needed to go in and put it out."

He didn't wince as the house was filled with the sound of walls being kicked in.

"They can't hurt the house. The front door has some glass in it that my wife wants to save. Other than that, they can do whatever they want," Brandt said.

The training will last until the demolition crew takes down the house. That is expected to happen in the near future.
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