Firefighters need special training tower

It’s not as common these days to see firefighters burning down donated homes for practice.

Fire departments must conduct asbestos abatement and abide by an increasing number of safety requirements before burning old homes, a process that can make the training more costly than it’s worth.

In addition, residents worry about risks when the burning structure is close to their own homes.

But firefighters must have live fire training before they can become certified, so area fire departments are looking at creating burn towers and centers.

Officials with the Montrose Fire Protection District plan to have a burn tower erected near their Racine Road fire station by August.

The Grand Junction Fire Department is in the planning stages of creating a facility, and officials await word about a state Energy Impact Grant that could help pay those construction costs.

Allen Weese, battalion chief with the Montrose Fire Department, said its concrete-and-steel facility will be four stories high and about 1,500 square feet, with a maze room with removable panels where firefighters can practice maneuvers. The building will cost about $400,000, and the money already has been allocated by board members of the fire district.

“This is much safer in the end,” Weese said of training at a center. “When people give us buildings, we have to burn them to the ground. Often we have to re-sheetrock walls and come in and put in lots of prep work. We have to follow some pretty strict standards.”

Firefighters around the region have traveled long distances to facilities in Rifle and Rangely for live fire training. Grand Junction Fire Department Chief Ken Watkins said that can result in extra cost for fuel, rental fees, lodging costs for trainees and overtime pay for those who train the firefighters.

Using a local facility would provide a realistic scenario of a fire in progress. If firefighters are called midtraining to an actual fire, they would be better able to respond because the training center would be centrally located. Also, unlike burning a home, firefighters can more quickly douse a blaze while training at a center.

Grand Junction firefighters conduct training at an abandoned building at The Regional Center, 2800 D Road, but firefighters are not allowed to burn there. Department officials are working on an agreement to lease land from the National Guard and create a burn center near there, also off D Road, Watkins said.

Having a center is all the more important because the department is growing and will need to fill positions as older members retire. Also, firefighters are responding to an increasing variety of calls other than fires, such as river rescues, medical calls, bomb scares and hazardous material spills.

“As fire departments have gotten bigger and busier, we need more training,” Watkins said.

“We’re doing a fire academy every year and continue to have large recruit staffs and new standards. Training is a lot more structured than it used to be.”


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