A CLOSER LOOK: Live fire training towers enhance fire department training & safety

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SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. (KNWA) — The Siloam Springs Fire Department’s new four-story training facility was a long-time coming.

“It’s been almost 20 years in the making,” said Siloam Springs Fire Chief Jeremy Criner. “That site [tower] was in the conceptual stages back when our headquarters building was built in 2001.”

Siloam Springs residents passed a public safety sales tax — a reallocation of a one-cent sales tax — in 2013.

“It gave the Fire Department a portion of the sales tax [and] paved the way to get the ball rolling,” Criner said. “It was the catalyst to insure the fire department had a funding stream for capital purchases and improvements.”

The training facility ended up costing about $800,000.

The facility’s first phase, which involved on-site utility relocations, site designs and initial dirt-work, was included in the city’s 2017 budget. Construction began in the fall of 2018.

Fire Department officials shaped the facility’s design after extensive research that included consulting officials with fire departments that have training facilities in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and neighboring Arkansas fire departments.

“We created it from scratch based on the elements we needed,” Criner said. “The priorities for the design revolved around functionality and something that was very versatile. As a fire department we don’t just go and put out fires, there’s a lot of things we do. And when it comes to putting out fires, there’s a whole host of skills and activities that go along with that other than just putting water on fire.”

Firefighters can practice many forms of firefighting procedures in the facility and even create circumstances that match actual fire scenarios, Criner said.

“There’s sections that are designated as burn rooms where you can go in and create a controlled fire and look at fire behavior and then practice extinguishing, and then there’s movable partitions in there where we can go in there and rearrange the partitions to match search building types,” Criner said.

The facility also enables firefighters to practice creating ventilation during fires and high and low angle rope rescues, according to Criner.

Fayetteville Fire Department Battalion Chief Mauro Campos said his fire department has had a four-story training facility since 2017.

Campos said the facility enables Fayetteville firefighters to do live fire training, search and rescue training, confined space firefighting, rope rescue training, fire behavior training and ventilation training.

“We can open the roof up with our chainsaws and punch through the ceiling to release smoke and gases to make the environment where the fire is easy to work in,” Campos said. “It’s a coordinated type of fire attack. Vertical ventilation itself is a skill that firefighters need to know how to do. They’re using saws, proper cutting technique and proper coordination to do it correctly.”

The facility also allows for flashover training.

“Flashover is a phenomenon in fire behavior. It’s part of fire growth,” Campos said. “Flashovers happen in almost every fire if you have enough fuel, such as black smoke, and the right amount of heat [in a confined space],” Campos said.

The Fayetteville Fire Department also has a concrete pad for pump training and hydraulics training.

Fayetteville firefighters also use the concrete pad for extrication training, which involves taking the doors off vehicles and cutting the roofs off for extrication rescues common in a rollover accident or an accident in which the vehicles is heavily damaged and the doors have to be taken off, Campos said.

Having a multi-story tower with burn rooms has one especially crucial benefit, Campos said.

“The number one thing we want is for our guys to to be safe on the fire ground. Safety is the number one priority, and the fire tower enables us to teach safe fire practices,” he said.

Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said while the Rogers Fire Department does not currently have a multi-story tower with burn rooms to practice live fire situations, it does have the regions first firefighter training complex, which was built in 1997.

Jenkins said a six-story training tower with burn rooms is being built on the complex site and should be completed by the end of summer.

The Johnson Fire Department has a combination of paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters. Fire Chief Matthew Mills said his department periodically practices live fire situations in homes that are ready for destruction.

“However, prior to any use we must have a survey completed by Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to ensure the safety of both the firefighters and the general public,” Mills said.

Johnson firefighters participate in multi-agency training as often as they can, partnering with both local volunteer and full-time fire departments.

“When we need a local training facility for live burns we are able to schedule time at the satellite academy in Lincoln. Other than that, we currently have to send firefighters to Camden or other locations that host the necessary courses,” Mills said.

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