Loud bangs echoed through the old Heritage Apartments at Friendship Haven Wednesday afternoon as chunks of wood and plaster sailed into hallways littered with debris.
The 57-year-old building that's slated for demolition was taking a beating from Fort Dodge firefighters swinging axes and sledge hammers as they practiced skills that will help them force their way into burning buildings to make rescues.
"It's pretty nice hands-on training for these guys," Fire Department Capt. Mitch Sells said as the sound of an ax hitting a wooden door reverberated down the hall from him.
-Messenger photos by Hans Madsen
Mike Ormond, a Fort Dodge firefighter, right, sends chunks of concrete, plaster and paint flying Wednesday afternoon as he practices various breaching techniques in the old Heritage Apartments at Friendship Haven. The units are slated for demolition.
Sells said the firefighters were practicing forcible entry, which he said is the process of breaching doors and walls. It's something firefighters have to do on a regular basis at building fires.
The practice is good for firefighters at all levels of expertise, according to Sells.
"It doesn't matter if you're old or young," he said.
The firefighters went to work with axes, sledge hammers, hooks mounted on long poles and metal bars with pointed ends called Halligan tools.
Firefighter Mark Peters said an ax and a Halligan tool are used together in many forcible entry jobs. He added that firefighters plan in advance so that everyone knows who will be doing the forcible entry work long before they respond to a call.
But on Wednesday all of the on-duty firefighters took a turn breaking open doors. The apartment building, which will be leveled by the end of this year, posed a challenge for them. All of the door frames are made of steel and the interior walls are made of what appeared to be 1-foot by 1-foot blocks held together with mortar. Sells and other veteran firefighters said they had never seen a building constructed in that manner.
Firefighters will be training at the building for the rest of the week.
Known for years as the West Building, the Heritage Apartments have been replaced by the River Ridge Apartments next door. Residents moved from the old building to the new one last month, according to Julie Thorson, the president and chief executive officer of the senior living community.
Thorson said Friendship Haven leaders want to ''get as much life as we can'' out of the old building before it is demolished. Allowing the firefighters to train there helps to achieve that goal, she said. She added that the Fort Dodge Police Department has been invited to use the building for training also.
She said that Twin Rivers Habitat for Humanity, Pride in Community Appearance, Headstart, Beacon of Hope, St. Edmond Catholic Schools and the Coleman District Community Center were allowed to take materials from the building.
"We have, to the best of our ability, utilized this building to its fullest capacity," Thorson said. "It has served the community proudly for many, many years. It's a great part of our tradition of giving and we are happy to move on to the next part of campus revitalization."