NEW CASTLE, Pa. – When the firefighters pulled up to the scene, the fire had grown from a small hay fire to a full barn fire.
The black smoke extended into the sky and could be seen for miles.
Inside, the horses were bucking and scrambling in their pens, desperate to get out. The owner rushed to the firemen; can you help?
This is what a real barn fire can be like. But on April 21, it was just a demonstration.
Running Quarters Stable in New Castle, Pa., hosted a “barn smoking” to teach 4-H members how to deal with a barn fire just like this.
Safety first. The goal of the event was prevention. The 85 youth split into groups and attended a series of mini-clinics where trained leaders taught them about fire prevention, what to do in case of a barn fire, and how to train their horses to react properly while in a fire situation.
During the barn-smoking demonstration, a smoke machine was placed inside a barn. After being briefed on fire and smoke safety, the 4-H students were led inside the barn in groups and instructed to find the lead rope and a bucket hidden in the smoke that hung in the air.
Horse reactions vary. The students were also shown a demonstration on how horses may react to strangers. First, plain-clothed firefighters entered the arena and approached the horses, which reacted very mildly.
However, when the firefighters entered the arena again in their full fire gear, one of the horses got excited and started bucking and kicking, keeping the firefighter away from him.
What you can do. According to Jen Zajowski, an emergency medical technician and event leader, and Jerry Wilson, a 4-H member and horse owner, there are several things you can do to prevent and prepare for a barn fire.
First, an owner must get his horses used to being blindfolded and walking around while blindfolded. Blinding the animal helps it to relax and focus on its sense of feeling.
“Practice with your horse,” said Debbie Lasky of Union Township. “Teach your horse horsemanship skills such as leading and backing.”
Second, it’s also critical to keep the barn organized and neat. Keep the aisles clear of debris and remove anything that may cause the spread of fire.
However, fire risk is greater in a barn than in a house because unlike houses, barns generally don’t have rooms, which act as barriers to break the fire. Because of the barns’ spacious interior, the fire has much more room to spread and spreads much faster.
Professionals’ view. Two members of the Neshannock Township Fire Department spoke during one of the mini-clinics about the fire department’s job at the scene of a barn fire.
“Firefighters have a generic plan for places like this,” said firefighter Brad Shaffer. “The first fireman on the scene is the boss, who delegates tasks to various people.”
Shaffer, who has dealt with barn fires before, recommends barn owners keep the grass trimmed around the barn and manage the storage of hay, two major contributors to barn fires.
Firefighters, however, face some problems when trying to a get horses out of a barn. For example, a fire fighter may not know where the stalls are or may grab the wrong horse. It is important for the barn owner and the fire department to communicate at the scene of a fire.
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