|"Don't worry, we've only lost a few reporters since we started doing this," joked fire department spokesman Lynn Brown as I contemplated whether to actually enter the burning house.
Tom Koger, owner of the house on the corner of Annie Laurie Street and Murlagan Avenue, had arranged for the fire department to set it afire for training. This will serve two purposes: clearing the site for construction of three new homes, and giving trainees valuable time working with a real fire. Training day was Friday morning.
After I donned a loaner fire suit, mask and 23-pound air tank, fire investigator Craig Cesarin led me into the burning house, where temperatures were expected to be up to 200 degrees. The first few moments were pure chaos, with people yelling and bumping into each other in the pitch dark smoke. After the smoke floated up to the ceiling, firefighters could be seen carefully turning their nozzle on the "seed" of the fire in the next room, which seemed to make the whole room glow red-hot through the doorway.
"Imagine having to wake up at 3 a.m. and find yourself in this situation," Cesarin said.
Besides the Voice, the department invited several city officials to participate in the exercise. Mayor Tom Means explained that only one council member would be going in at a time -- "for the same reason they don't all get on the same plane together," joked Brown.
"There was so much smoke I felt claustrophobic," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga, while getting the required check of her vital signs afterwards.
"It's amazing how hot it was," said city purchasing manager Tina Yoke. "And there was absolutely no visibility."
Firefighter trainees came from as far as Newark, Novato, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. The house was set on fire numerous times during the day using hay and wood pallets.
Koger, a developer and former resident of the house, said the event felt a little like a party, as neighbors watched and free sandwiches and drinks were served to firefighters and guests.
"I think we're going to offer the fire department everything we do," he said about future demolition projects.
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