Contaminated cottages will be torched for training

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Three MEMA cottages destined for the scrap heap will instead be burned down.  Harrison County has plans to use the drug infested cottages as a training tool for its volunteer firefighters.

The plan seems simple.  Volunteer firefighters and new recruits will learn lifesaving rescue techniques by setting the unusable cottages on fire.  Yet, three different people stopped Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon on Tuesday and said the plan was a huge mistake.

A pastor told Mixon, "I want somebody living in them."

However, the pastor's wish can't be granted, because Mixon has paperwork in his possession says that these three Mississippi cottages can only be salvaged.

"They can't give them to anybody to live in," Mixon told the pastor.

He keeps making that point to people who question why the contaminated cottages aren't being reused.  When a neighbor wondered why burning down the cottages was the only viable option, Mixon again said, "They cannot be lived in.  They cannot be occupied."

The county fire marshal said he was offered the cottages for training purposes after MEMA determined they were drug infested health hazards, and no longer safe.  MEMA spokesman Greg Flynn confirmed that all three cottages had been contaminated by meth labs.  Flynn said the agency donated the three cottages as a safety precaution.  Because of the chemicals involved with meth, nobody at MEMA or FEMA wanted "to take any chances" by allowing somebody else to live in the contaminated cottages.

So Mixon had the cottages dropped off on a vacant lot along County Farm Road.  The words fire and fire training were spray painted in orange on each of the cottages.

Once that was done, Mixon began working with his paid staff on innovative ways to turn the structures into effective training tools.  One of his trainers is Dave Queal.  He can wait for Saturday's fire to "take all of our volunteers who just graduated, put them in an actual live fire training scenario."

Queal coordinates the day-to-day operations at the West Harrison Fire Station on Vidalia Road.  He often brings equipment to his training course to dent up donated items like a used car.  If the car can look just like a vehicle does at a crash scene -- or a cottage can be used for a training fire  -- his volunteers can practice their life saving techniques.

"Our job is all about techniques and skills to do the job," said Queal.

Recruits will do jaws of life work on this car in a couple of weeks.  First, they'll practice their firefighting skills by burning down the MEMA cottages parked on County Farm Road.

Mixon understands the need for housing.  But, in this case, moving new people into the contaminated cottages isn't an option.  That's why he stresses the experience his volunteers will get by torching the cottages is "a good cause."  He believes "the greater good is for educating the men and women of the volunteer fire service."

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.