LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — Firefighters rushed in and out of an old burning house Saturday morning as part of a training exercise. The old house and a motel went up in flames as Lincolnville and Northport fire departments lit the house’s two upstairs bedrooms on fire and then watered down the walls.
Across the street sat Ida Watson, 77, of Belfast. That was her house once. She ran the motel next to it, which the firefighters also burned to the ground Saturday.
“It’s sad to see it go. We had a good 10 years there,” Watson said Saturday morning. She thought about the guests she’d had in the old motel. She used to remember all of their names and which weeks they took vacations. Almost all of her guests were repeat customers. That was in the late 1970s and early ’80s, before her husband died and she had to sell the business.
“There goes your mother’s bedroom,” Watson said to her daughter who sat in the car with her.
Inside, three firefighters at a time rushed in to put out flames. About 30 firefighters from Lincolnville and Northport each took three turns at the training exercise. For some men, including Lincolnville firefighter Jake Cookson, this was their first interior house fire.
“It’s hot,” Cookson said. “I know that sounds stupid, but it’s hotter than you can imagine. And it’s really dark.”
That’s the point, according to Peter Simpson, Northport’s assistant fire chief. Some first-timers feel the heat and want to run. Others love it.
“We train guys to be firemen. They’re all ready and willing to go, but they’ve never been in a fire,” Simpson said. “[Today] they got a chance to see real fire. It gets them used to the heat.”
Days before the fire consumed Snow Hill Lodge on Route 1 in Lincolnville, Watson walked through her old home. She and her daughter and two of her granddaughters said goodbye to their old home. The laundry table was right where they left it. The rooms were smaller than they remembered. There, by the front window, was where Watson’s husband slept when he was not well enough to walk to their upstairs bedroom anymore.
“I hate to see it go,” Watson said.
Her old bedroom went first.
As three firefighters worked from inside the house Saturday, three others watched as white smoke billowed out the upstairs bedroom window. The guys inside needed backup. A firefighter outside the home aimed a hose right at the window, where flames were crawling up.
“Not the window! Not the window!,” screamed Jason Peasley, the Lincolnville fire chief.
“There’s a method to the madness. The way you spray the water is important,” Simpson said. If the stream of water goes directly through the window instead of around it, “it will knock the guys inside down.”
Penny Watson, Ida Watson’s daughter, helped her mother walk around their old home and motel before the burn. Watson, 43, of Morrill volunteers at her local fire department. Although she said she would miss the old building where she grew up, where she worked daily to keep the motel going, she said burning the place is great for the local firefighters.
“This is cool,” she said. “It’s not often they can have a building like this to train in. It’s a gold mine.”
The fire departments get about two houses a year donated for training. But a motel, that’s rare.
“Very, very seldom does it ever happen, especially something this massive,” said Peasley.
The current owner offered Peasley the building for training. Earlier this month, his Fire Department used the motel to learn how to enter rooms by breaking through doors and did drills that required firefighters to feel as though they were trapped in a burning motel room.
Peasley said this would be an especially effective training seminar because there are so many motels on Route 1.
“We’re definitely fortunate, for a small town, to get something like this,” he said.