SOUTH HAVEN — Even though it’s been 40 years since South Haven firefighters have battled a large-scale blaze in the downtown, they still want to be prepared just in case. So they’re planning to do something they haven’t done in years – a large-scale fire training drill.
The five-alarm drill will take place Sunday morning, April 14, between 7 a.m.-11 a.m. in a triangular area bordered by Center, Quaker and Williams streets. While it occurs, the streets will be closed to traffic so that firefighters can properly train.
“We have not done one of these large-scale drills in the downtown for many years,” said South Haven Area Emergency Services Director Ron Wise. “We want to verify how much water we could pump if ever needed. We know how much water the fire hydrant system is supposed to supply, but putting it into reality helps our staff understand the potential and limitations for large fires.”
The drill will consist of firefighters testing how much water can be used from the fire hydrant system and pumped from the Black River to put out large-scale fires.
“We want to have a minimal impact on the city that morning,” Wise said. “We chose the Center Street area to keep Phoenix Street (downtown’s main street) mostly open. When we lay our large fire hoses towards the river, we will disrupt traffic in the area for a few hours, at the most.”
Even though drivers and pedestrians may be a little inconvenienced by not being able to use sections of those streets during the drill, the fire department thinks it’s necessary to conduct a real-life drill from time to time.
“We have done large fire drills at tabletop exercises where we use aerial maps in classroom training, now we can put them into practical use,” Wise said. “Practicing for large fires makes it much easier for our staff to really see how to properly place apparatus, how much hose it really takes to pump from the river to the downtown and the amount of personnel needed to handle a large fire in the downtown.”
During the drill several thousand gallons of water will actually be pumped from the river and from the hydrants.
“We will be flowing a large amount of water from the hydrant system and from the river. The water will flow into the street storm sewer and back into the river,” Wise said. “We want to verify how much water we could potentially pump into the downtown area in case we ever have a large-scale fire in the downtown.
“The current fire hydrant system can handle most fires in the downtown as long as the fire is contained to a certain business or section. If a fire for some reason spreads to multiple buildings, it would require massive amounts of water for extinguishment.”
In South Haven’s case, the likeliest source for extra water would come from the Black River.
“When you have a large fire spreading in a downtown area, the fire flow needed may require several thousand gallons per minute to control the fire,” Wise said. “When you see large fire ladder trucks spraying water on a fire, each truck can spray 1,000 gallons per minute. If we put up three ladder trucks on a large fire, and still want to flow water through fire hoses, we may need to flow up to 4,000 gallons of water per minute. That would require us to truck the water into the fire scene or pump it from the river.”
Firefighters from SHAES won’t be the only first responders taking part in the drill.
Fire and law enforcement department in Van Buren and Allegan counties will be assisting, as well as the Van Buren County Emergency Preparedness Office.
“Any time a community has a large fire, they utilize mutual aid agreements to have other fire departments assist,” Wise said. So far, departments from Bangor, Hartford, Columbia, Ganges, Watervliet, Lawrence, Saugatuck, Lee and Bloomingdale plan to be a part of the drill.
The last time South Haven firefighters dealt with a large-scale building fire downtown occurred in 1978 when a blaze broke out at N&R Store. Prior to that, a large fire destroyed the Michigan Shore Lumber Company along the Black River in 1969. A year before the lumber company blaze, a fire destroyed Holly’s restaurant on Center Street.