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Academy Trainees Hit the Roof in Firefighting Exercise

Santa Barbara home slated for demolition gives eight soon-to-be graduates valuable experience

Shards of red Spanish tile flew Tuesday as Santa Barbara city firefighters chipped away the roof of Tom and Barbara Sanborn’s Riviera home before reaching for their chainsaws.

There was no fire, but firefighters hoped that by practicing on the Sanborns’ Mission Ridge home, slated for demolition in advance of a rebuild, that they’ll be ready to handle accessing a structure fire through the roof.

It’s a tricky and precarious task — hit a joint beam and both firefighters working on the hole could collapse into the flames.

Create a hole in the wrong spot, away from the fire’s source, and the flame could race through the house as it searches for the oxygen let in by the new opening.

Calculating all of this while accounting for the smoke and heat pervading the scene of a real fire, the pitch of the roof, dozens of pounds of gear, and running chainsaw add to the challenge.

But after Tuesday’s training, eight soon-to-be graduates of the fire academy will be a bit more prepared as they move forward to become city firefighters upon their graduation ceremony May 30. 

The graduates will be completing their training just as fire season moves into full swing in Santa Barbara County, with dry conditions and high temperatures likely looming this summer.

The Sanborns watched the action from the shade of their garage, and talked a bit about the building’s history as crews worked to tear through the roof.

Their 1,200-square-foot home, now perched on a hillside with a spectacular view of the glistening Pacific Ocean, was built in the early 1920s, and became known as “the Dance Floor” during prohibition and was a neighborhood nightspot. 

The building was permitted as a “social club” in the 1930s, and the owner eventually added a small kitchen and began living in the home.

The Sanborns, both architects, have lived in the structure since purchasing it five years ago, and already have permits in hand for their new home, which will be built where the old building sits now.

Sanborn approached the Fire Department about training on the building since it was slated to be torn down anyway, and even fed the firefighters tacos over a lunch break during the training.

Drills like the ones taking place on Tuesday are key to training new firefighters, and “we’re trying to get more homeowners to do this,” Capt. Gary Pitney said.

Usually, demolitions are done quickly before the Fire Department is notified about the buildings slated to be destroyed, but Inspector Ryan DiGuilio said that even a day’s notice is welcomed by the department.

“We’ll take anything,” he said. “We’re starving for these kinds of places.”

Commercial and residential spaces slated for demolition are welcome, and DiGuilio encouraged anyone interested to contact the city’s fire prevention bureau at 805.564.5702.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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