Despite a torrential rain that spanned several days, the Orange Rural Fire Department still found time for its latest training exercise.

On Saturday, the department trained with a practice fire at 234 Thomas Ruffin St., about 250 feet from Cameron Park Elementary School. The training using this house was originally set for December.

In April 2018, the owners of the structure received approval from the Hillsborough Historic District Commission to demolish the 1950s structure.

Overall, 20 developing firefighters from the Orange Rural Fire Department received training, as did five from various other departments.

Though the house was cleared to be used in a controlled training setting, preparations had to be made prior to setting the building ablaze.

“We have to make the building as safe as possible prior to setting the first fire,” said Orange Rural Fire Department Chief Jeff Cabe. “We have to eliminate hazards such as floor coverings, furniture and anything that could become a pressure vessel like water heaters and well tanks. We built makeshift hand rails where there weren’t any and we removed a rotted shed roof from the rear of the building because it was unstable.”

The location was chosen after the contractor cleaning up the property contacted the Orange Rural Fire Department and asked if they could train on the structure. After evaluating, the department concluded they could train in five different rooms but the rest of the house was unstable due to wood rot and water damage.

Cabe says that live fire evolutions are critical in training young firefighters.

“Each fire presents different opportunities for observing fire behavior and flame spread,” he said. “It also exposes them to intense heat while they practice using the gear and equipment they need to save lives and property when emergency calls come.”

Saturday’s exercise came in the midst of a driving rain that caused minor flooding at rivers across the Piedmont and Triad.

On Sunday, Feb. 24, The Town of Hillsborough temporarily closed two sections of trails in Hillsborough parks and the Riverwalk greenway, due to “slippery” conditions from flooding.

While the rain caused the exercise to conclude 90 minutes earlier than scheduled, it was still beneficial for training.

Cabe says they try to hold several trainings like this per year, but sometimes the department goes a few years without a local training.

“Live fire evolutions like the one we had today come periodically,” Cabe said. “Sometimes we get two to three [trainings] a year and other times we may go five years without a single opportunity like today.

“We are part of a regional mutual aid agreement so often times, if neighboring fire departments get the chance for a live burn, they will invite departments around them,” he continued. “We usually do the same, but due to the limited amount of suitable burn areas, we did not invite a lot of other departments to join us.”

To train with live fire, the Orange Rural Fire Department relies on donations of structures scheduled for demolition. The old buildings provide new firefighters with training on fire behavior, fire control and how to work as safely as possible when responding to actual emergencies.