Schiffman donation funds SBVFD's new 'live-burn' facility

Phil Reynolds/The Highlander
Sunrise Beach volunteer firefighters prepare to put out a blaze in the department's new "live-burn" room during a demonstration at the room's dedication. The room was made possible by a donation by a former fire chief, Sy Schiffman.





By Phil Reynolds

The Highlander

Sy Schiffman leaned on his crooked cane in the driveway of the Sunrise Beach Volunteer Fire Department’s new training building and squinted in the sun and mumbled something about they just said that’s what they needed.

But former Sunrise Beach Fire Chief Stephen Grove put a different spin on the story.

Grove said he and Schiffman had been discussing the building, once the main fire station, but whose renovation was stalled for lack of funds.

“’How much do you need?’ he asked me,” Grove said.

“’About $6,000,’ I told him. And he wrote a check.”

Current Fire Chief Brooks Frederick agreed.

Without (Schiffman’s donation) we wouldn’t have been able to finish this,” he said.

And that’s why, when around 50 Sunrise Beach VFD volunteers and their families and others gathered for the dedication of the training facility on Friday, Aug. 3, the plaque beside the door had Sy Schiffman’s name on it.

The addition to the original building looks like just a concrete block room. In fact, it’s a lot more, because it’s designed so that instructors can light fires in it, and trainees can learn first-hand what it’s like to work in full firefighting gear in actual heat and smoke, under controlled conditions.

They wouldn’t be quoted, but Sunrise Beach officials think it’s the only so-called “live burn” facility this side of Austin, and they’re pretty sure it’s the only one in Llano County.

Schiffman, a former Sunrise Beach fire chief himself (for eight and a half years, Grove reckoned), looked slightly uncomfortable but pleased at the attention as bystanders applauded the unveiling of the plaque.

Then firefighters lit up the training room, which quickly reached temperatures in the hundreds of degrees. For demo purposes, they didn’t go inside to fight the fire, but they did put water on it from the doorway.

It was impressive.

The whole thing started about four years ago, when volunteers looked over from the “new” fire station at the former station and wondered what to do with it. They couldn’t lease it out, because the terms of its use meant if it wasn’t used for fire fighting, the building had to be torn down and the property would revert to residential zoning, Grove said.

So the VFD set out to raise money to convert the old station to a training site.

Sunrise Beach is an all-volunteer operation, unlike some departments that get funds from co-existing Emergency Service Districts. Any money spent in Sunrise Beach has to be given by residents.

And residents had just about given everything they could for the reconstruction when Sy Schiffman took that swallow of coffee across the table from Stephen Grove.

Now, there’s a whole suite of rooms, including a living room and bedroom, as well as the live-burn room. A fog generator lets firefighters learn how to search in no-visibility conditions without the smoky hazards of a real fire. Instructors can stand over their shoulders, shouting instructions and doing their best to create confusion in the students’ minds. That pays off in a real structure fire when volunteers face smoke-filled rooms that possibly have victims inside.

Sunrise Beach expects the new addition to ramp up training for its volunteer firefighters.

And they wanted to say, “Thanks, Sy.”

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