By Ken Stephens
Hutchinson News - April 17, 2014
In the parlance of architects and bureaucrats, what’s going on at the Wiley Building is called adaptive reuse, transforming and old building for use in ways other than its original purpose.
The Hutchinson Fire Department took that to extremes on Tuesday.
Several companies of firefighters went up to the eighth floor, where the demolition workers have scarcely begun to gut the interior of the 100-year-old building, and used sledgehammers, axes and other tools to break down locked doors and knock holes through walls.
“We’re practicing forcible entry and breaching walls,” Fire Department Capt. Greg Henke said. “If doors are locked and no key holders are on hand, we have techniques to pop doors. And if we are inside and our escape route is blocked we need to breach walls to rescue ourselves. We have different techniques for different types of walls.”
The Fire Department arranged last week with Jack Manske, head of the group that is redeveloping the former department store and office building into 73 apartments and two floors of commercial space, and Key Construction to take advantage of the plans to gut the interior and get in some practice on a floor that hadn’t been demolished.
“It’s not often we find a building that people will let us use to practice and destroy,” Henke said.
Henke said they have proven techniques that they wanted to practice. But the building also gave them the opportunity to try out other techniques. Mostly, though, it seemed to involve big tools and a lot of muscle.
They got in practice on a number of types of walls. Going through sheetrock seemed relatively easy. Brick and concrete blocks were harder.
“You swing like a sissy,” one firefighter was heard to kid another.
Even plaster laid over a wire mesh presented some problems. In all cases, they were trying to create holes big enough for a man to escape through.
Unlike on television when a swift kick sends a door flying open, the firefighters found some wooden doors with deadbolt locks surprising resistant to the knocking of a sledgehammer. All eventually yielded, however.
As the rubble they created piled up, firefighters roamed from room to room, looking for one more wall or one more door to break down. When none could be found, they trooped down an interior hallway, the fluorescent strips on their coats seeming to dance in the dim sunlight filtering through a cloud of dust that hung in the air.