Fire-damaged house set afire, extinguished, set afire again and again
TONICA — Firefighters from several local fire departments gathered just outside Tonica on Sept. 7 for a valuable training exercise that could end up saving their lives and the lives of others.
While firefighters regularly train in purpose-built structures capable of simulating many of the obstacles they can potentially face when entering a burning building, there’s no substitute for the real thing.
“You can watch all the YouTube training videos you want, but until you feel the heat and experience the zero visibility of a real fire, you just can’t know what it’s really like. These types of exercises will help our firefighters survive,” Tonica Volunteer Fire Department Training Officer Rick Turri said.
The Tonica fire department organized and hosted the exercise which was held at the family home of Tom and Karla Goskusky. Their home caught fire earlier this spring, and while Karla said Tonica firefighters responded “extremely fast” and quickly put out the fire, insurance adjusters ruled the home a complete loss because of the estimated repair costs.
Tom and their two sons, Mitch and John, are all firefighters. Tom and Mitch work with the Tonica department, and John is with the Cedar Point Fire Department.
After the family agreed to allow the exercise, Turri pursued the multiple required permits for such an event.
“We used to be able to do these types of exercises more frequently, but there’s a lot of red tape involved now with the state and the EPA. You also have to have a permit from the state historical society so they can make sure Lincoln never slept here and those types of things,” he said.
Fires were repeatedly set in the home, extinguished, and then set afire once again so another training group could enter the building to fight the blaze. At a later date, the structure will be knocked down and the site cleared.
“This exercise is great for our younger firefighters because it reinforces command and control, accountability, and also helps them learn how to read smoke and fire conditions in a real environment,” Turri said.
While the day provided invaluable, realistic training for the firefighters, it also might have hit a little too close to home, quite literally, for the Goskusky family.
“The first room on fire that we had to put out was my own bedroom, so that felt a little weird,” Mitch said.
Karla, while appreciative of the type of training the day provided, also shared the pain of watching her family’s home burn again.
“This was my grandparent’s home, my parents grew up here, I grew up here, and my children grew up here, so this is hard,” she said.
She said the family farm is only a few years away from becoming one of the state’s Centennial Farms, so that only added to her sense of loss.
“I hate that this happened on my watch, so to speak,” she said.
She also lamented all of the work her family had done to improve the home over many years.
“I waited so long to have a big wrap-around porch, and now it’s gone after we just finished it,” she said.
She said the family will build another home on the site, but added it will be a smaller home and that it just won’t be the same as the multi-generational home she was once again watching burn.
Firefighters participating in the training included members of the Tonica, Cedar Point, Leonore, Oglesby and some suburban fire departments, as well as students from the LaSalle-Peru Area Career Center.