Saturday was a sad day and a day of hope for the members of First Presbyterian Church of Lake Placid for several reasons. A house at 225 East Park Street just east of the church was burned to the ground to make room for an expansive addition to the church complex.
It was a sad day watching the house burn where many memories were created. The house had been left to the church after the death of a local couple. The house had been used for many functions over the years, including Sunday school classes and various church group meetings such as ladies’ quilting and crafting.
It was a day of hope for several reasons. First Presbyterian Church will be replacing the house with a 20,000-square-foot community outreach facility. Much prayer and planning by the church went into the decision to burn the house, said church member and Placid Lakes volunteer firefighter Mark Fortier.
The new building will be used by the church for a variety of function as well as be available for community functions.
Another reason for a day of hope is that the Highlands County Emergency Operations Center was able to conduct extremely realistic training in the house. When the decision to demolish the house was made, Fortier coordinated with Charles Andrews of the EOC to conduct a very realistic training event.
Andrews expressed appreciation for the availability of the house to conduct training and said every precaution had been taken to prevent the fire from reaching outside the property to the neighborhood.
A number of local fire departments responded to the invitation to join in the training. There were volunteer departments from Lake Placid, Placid Lakes, West Sebring, Sun ’n Lakes, DeSoto City, Highlands Park, Lorida, Highlands Lakes, Avon Park Public Safety, and Venus.
Real fires were set inside the house and the various departments took turns responding to the fires. Not long after noon, the final fire was set. It did not take long for the fire to breach the roof. And not long after that the entire house was engulfed in flames.
Thick smoke was generated and the intense heat was easily felt across the street. Several firemen were heard to remark that it was unusual to watch such a fire and not attack it. It was a day of hope in that those firemen and women who trained there will be even more ready to respond more efficiently to real fires and possibly save lives and property.
And maybe it was a day of hope for the curious on-lookers who saw first hand how rapid and devastating a house fire can be. Maybe they will be more attentive to dangerous fire risks in their own houses and take appropriate action so that they will not have to call on their local fire department. But if they do, they will have a well-trained fire department close at hand.