New Training Facilities to Bring Innovative Elements in Firefighter Training

Firefighters fighting fire

In this file photo taken in 2008, Tulsa firefighters train in one of the designated areas the Tulsa Fire Department uses for practicing putting out blazes. The new state-of-the-art facility will give firefighters more versatility and control in their training exercises.

 

FIRE! 9-1-1 is called. The alarm sounds and out rushes the big red truck with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Help is on its way! Trained firefighters arrive. The blaze is battled. Rescues are performed. Basic life support services are provided and what could have been horrific is now hopeful.

This story is familiar in the Tulsa metro area. According to the Tulsa Fire Department’s (TFD) website, the TFD responds to more than 54,000 incidents annually. In addition, the TFD is an all hazards fire department, which means their services include responding to fire, emergency medical services, hazardous materials, technical rescues and many other dangerous situations. The TFD service area covers 201 square miles populated with approximately 400,000 citizens.

That’s a lot of ground, situations and lives to cover. The need for highly trained firefighters and eminently skilled emergency medical technicians is growing in the metro area. In response to this growing need, Tulsa Community College, in partnership with the City of Tulsa, is building a new TFD Safety Training Center to create state-of-the-art educational opportunities for rookie and seasoned firefighters alike.

Replacing the city’s current undersized and outdated training facility built in 1952, the $13.2 million project will include an actual fire station, where cadets and students can train in a building exactly like where they will work as firefighters.

The new Fire Training Center utilizes computer controlled, natural gas-fired training simulators. These training props provide realistic fire training scenarios including the intense heat, flames, smoke, sounds and the overall chaos of a real fire situation, but with control features for the safety of the trainees and staff. The natural gas props are clean burning with minimal environmental impact. Smoke is generated using a system, similar to those in theatrical productions, which produces non-toxic smoke. The props in phase one of the project include a kitchen fire, an office fire, an electrical equipment fire, and a residential fire. The computer control systems used for the fire simulators monitor how much and where fire suppression water is applied and adjusts the flame accordingly. If adequate water is not applied, the system has the capability to allow the fire to spread to adjacent props or flash over. The system can be programmed to simulate a wide variety of situations, and records the activities during training for later analysis. The system is expandable to allow additional training props to be added in the future.

In addition to live fire props, the Training Center includes other training props that simulate a floor structure weakened by a fire below, a total floor collapse, several ceiling collapse simulators, and movable partitions to allow the building layout to be changed. The Training Center also includes an elevator cab stuck between floors, fire alarm and fire sprinkler simulators, and several forcible entry props at doors and windows. The six-story drill tower includes tie-off points for ropes to allow firefighters to rappel down the side of the building. 

According to information provided by the design team, the training devices provide teaching tools to help firefighters know what to look for during actual emergency events. They also allow training for “May Day” events in which firefighters are trapped and need assistance.   

Michael J. Mallory, Chief of Physical Resources for the TFD, explained, “The diversity of the fire field and props will allow all to develop and refresh fundamental skills while simultaneously experiencing new techniques and technologies. 

Aerial vies of fire training center

In addition, the Safety Training Center will include outdoor classroom areas, apparatus storage and a storm water detention pond for water rescue training.

“The new facility has the ability to continuously change training scenarios and include simultaneous activities that directly impact the safety and success of the scenario,” said Mallory. “Current facilities provide little opportunity to provide training experiences that complicated or vastly different from other previous training programs. Though instructors desperately try to change and liven up the drill, the training becomes more a repeat of a few skills with little opportunity for critical thinking. With the new facility, the drill may be as simple or complex as the instructor and students wish to experience or attempt.

“The introduction of new ideas and techniques will be welcomed and then tested for success or failure. It will be from these developed lessons from which the knowledge, skills and abilities will be enhanced and introduced into the mitigation of real time emergencies,” he continued.

The partnership between Tulsa Community College and the City of Tulsa’s Fire Department goes beyond the bricks and mortar of the new facility. The two entities are working in tandem to help student learning.

“Qualified personnel may have opportunities to teach, new firefighters will have an opportunity to work with seasoned veterans to hone their skills, and students wishing to become firefighters may have the opportunity to acquire certifications that are historically reserved to only members of a fire department,” said Mallory.

TCC President Tom McKeon said the facility will help expand opportunities for students working toward a fire safety associate's degree from the college.

“Those in the program will have the opportunity to train in a state-of-the-art facility and the Safety Training Center will allow us to help better prepare a student for a career in the fire services,” said McKeon.

This partnership and this new facility benefits everyone, not just students. Through shared resources, the new facility will help provide the opportunity to conduct joint training between area fire departments.

Mallory explained, “While the delivered services are pretty good now between the departments, it will become even better in terms of safety and efficiency.”

Mallory, who has been involved in the basic design of the tower, props and fire-training field, is proud of the diversity that is being built into the entire fire training field and the opportunities it offers to nearly all fire departments and emergency service providers. 

“The facilities are being developed to accommodate both large and small departments alike. As an example, the process of pumping water from a pit or pond is rarely conducted by Tulsa Fire {Department}, but may be common place with rural departments,” he said. “The systems are in place for the smaller departments to train as if they would in their jurisdictions, and their knowledge and skills may be passed along to those departments where they rarely acquire water from sources other than a fire hydrant. In reverse, the metro departments may help teach the delivery of large volumes of water with an assortment of hose lines.”

All involved in the creation of the new training facility are pleased by the innovative design of the educational facility. The design team consists of Fritz Baily Architects, P.C., designer of the facility and architect-of-record; Abercrombie Design, specialty fire training design; Elliott, LeBoeuf and McElwain, specialty drill tower structural engineering;Wallace Engineering, civil and general structural engineering; Lee and Browne, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering; andHowell and Vancuren, landscape design.

Tulsa Community College invested roughly $2.2 million in buying the land at the site. Money from the 2005 General Obligation Bond Issue is funding the first phase of construction. The facility will be located on the Tulsa Community College Northeast Campus at 2819 N. New Haven Ave. Crews began construction work in April 2013 with completion scheduled for sometime in 2014.

 The location also allows TCC to provide more of the initial firefighter training as a part of their Fire Services program, which in turn, is expected to reduce recruit training costs for the city. The larger facility also allows TCC to offer specialized fire and emergency training to meet the needs of other fire departments, businesses, and industries. This should further increase revenues and allow the training center to become more self-sufficient.

Mallory said,  “This is only the first phase of a multi-phase program.  The facility will continue to grow as other organizations, including private business, are introduced to the physical and educational resources that are available to them.”

A master plan developed by the design team describes several subsequent phases that include more specialized training buildings and a new classroom building overlooking the training field.

I am hopeful that the facility will become the all-inclusive training facility for dispatchers, fire suppression, fire prevention, fire investigation, pre-hospital emergency medicine, hazardous materials response, incident management, emergency vehicle technicians, apparatus testing and business management of emergency service organizations,” Mallory said. “The expertise is already in Tulsa. The new facility is merely the catalyst for successfully preparing personnel for the challenges of the ever-changing fire service.”

TCC