On any other day, the gray smoke rolling out from a bedroom at Kent State University’s Allerton Apartments would have been cause for alarm.
But Thursday’s fire was set intentionally as area firefighters began a weeks-long effort to burn up the 45-year-old complex as part of a training program.
KSU officials turned three shuttered buildings over to the Kent Fire Department, which invited area departments to come make the most of a rare chance to practice firefighting in a modern two-story brick apartment setting.
“You don’t get the opportunity to train in this environment often,” said Kent Fire Lt. David Moore, the incident commander.
Firefighters from Hudson, Brimfield Township, Brady Lake, Rootstown, Akron, Garfield Heights, Mantua and Kent attended this week’s first live burn. Other departments have been invited to participate in future burns, Moore said.
Pallets, wood and hay were put in one apartment’s bedroom to fuel the flames. Firefighters practiced hauling hoses up the stairs, entering the apartment and mostly putting the fire out.
“We won’t put it completely out and we’ll keep adding fuel to it to keep it going so we can use it for a few more hours,” Moore said.
University officials announced the end of the 164 on-campus apartments off Allerton Street two years ago. Two buildings already have met the wrecking ball, buildings K-M have been set aside for fire training, and four other buildings still in use eventually will be emptied.
The complex was built in 1967 to house married students, but appeal of the older buildings has faded over the years as newer complexes have gone up, said Todd Shaffer, Kent State University construction manager.
The area, south of the main campus, will be returned to green space, he said.
The building firefighters trained on Thursday will be in use for at least a couple of more weeks, Moore said. By then, asbestos removal in another building will be complete and training will move to that building while the burned facility is torn down.
New and veteran firefighters are taking advantage of the training, Moore said, many of them attending when they are off duty.
Experienced firefighters help younger ones, “and while we’re teaching them, we learn new things, too,” Moore said. “The day I think I know everything is the day it’s time to hang up my helmet.”
Two separate incidents Wednesday stressed the importance of training for fires in college apartment buildings, Moore said. The Kent Fire Department responded to two cooking fires, one put out by a sprinkler system, the other handled by a resident.
“It’s vitally important we get into apartment-type atmospheres” to train for scenarios that don’t end so easily, Moore said.
In addition to the physical buildings, old Allerton furniture is benefiting the community.
Last month, the university allowed Kent ReStore (affiliated with Habitat for Humanity of Portage County) to remove appliances and furniture. The items will be sold at the store and used to fund their mission.