May 18. 2003 6:28AM

Sturbridge firefighter donates house to burn

Harold A. Gushue Jr

STURBRIDGE- Firefighter David Peterkin invited about 20 fire department members to an unusual house warming yesterday.

They helped him burn down his eight-room house at 70 Holland Road.

Mr. Peterkin and his wife, Roxann Smith, plan to build a new home on the spot, a passive solar post and beam home. By donating the house for practice, the couple saved the demolition cost and firefighters got a day of practice.

"We were talking about demolishing the house, and I knew it was available," Mr. Peterkin said. "I offered it to the chief, and he said it looks like a good house to burn because it was away from everybody. It's a good-size house. It's good and solid." He said firefighters did not have to worry about possibly falling through a weak floor.

Ms. Smith said they both came up with the idea. "He went to the fire academy this fall. When we were looking at probably taking the house down we said, "Well, this would be a good training exercise.' So we talked to the chief and he said it's a great idea."

Firefighters began training early in the morning, and the house was to be burned in the afternoon. Fire Chief Leonard E. Senecal said firefighters would be practicing search and rescue, roof ventilation, using the positive pressure fan to clear smoke from the house and putting out fires in various rooms.

"This gives us the advantage to get the guys in there, get familiar with how the fire operates," Chief Senecal said. It also gave the department its first chance to use a new 4-inch line to supply water. Being able to practice under controlled conditions "gives us better training," the chief said.

Mr. Peterkin, who has been on the department 10 years, will have served two years as a full-time firefighter as of September.

While he and his wife agreed to donate the house in which they have lived for about nine years, they still had twinges of sorrow. Ms. Smith said "When I saw the first fire I felt ..." and left the sentence unfinished.

Mr. Peterkin said, "I'll probably cry when it finally burns."