Training tower, live fire building to be constructed near TMH
“If I want to send five or six guys to Hayden for live fire training and we have a big daytime fire here in Craig, we’re in big trouble because we don’t have enough people. This facility allows us to train right here and should a call come in, we’re ready to roll.”
— Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board President Byron Willems about the need for a local training facility
By the end of summer, the Craig Rural Fire Protection District could have a state of the art facility to provide its volunteers with live fire training in Craig.
During its regular monthly meeting Thursday, the Fire District Board of Directors reviewed plans to construct a training tower and live burn building on Hospital Loop Way, a few hundred yards southwest of The Memorial Hospital of Craig.
The board unanimously granted the planning team, consisting of Byron Willems, fire district board president; Chris Nichols, board secretary/treasurer; and Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Bill Johnston, a few weeks to review the planning documents before rendering a final decision.
According to those plans the square tower will be five industrial stories, or 100 feet tall. It will feature staircases and large empty rooms that can be customized for a variety of firefighting scenarios.
A second building, resembling a standard home with a pitched roof, will be constructed adjacent to the tower and serve as a live fire simulator.
Byron Willems, Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board president, said the cost of the training facility is $1.5 million, which will be paid with Department of Local Affairs money the district received in the past and leftover revenue from a special voter approved mill levy passed six years ago.
“The nice thing about this is we’re not asking the public for any additional funding for the project,” Willems said. “We have the money, it’s in the bank.”
The original plan also contained drawings for a second fire station, which is estimated to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 to $4 million.
“We could go borrow the money and build the station, but we don’t want to put the taxpayers in that kind of a bind right now,” Willems said. “We’re going to need one eventually and it is part of our long-term plan, but it just isn’t feasible right now.”
With a second fire station officially on the backburner, the Fire District Board decided it was time to at least phase in the tower and burn building.
The department asked for the community to support a similar, but much larger, training facility in the past, which they wanted to build near Walmart.
“The community not only said ‘no,’ but ‘hell no,’ and we understood that, it was too much,” Willems said. “This is not going to be at the same scope as that initial plan, this is just a building.”
Critics who opposed the previous training facility appear to be against this plan as well, questioning the safety of staging fires in such close proximity to a hospital.
Jennifer Riley, THM chief of organizational excellence, said the hospital and its board of directors do not share the public’s concerns.
“I don’t recall any of the board members having any concerns with them putting their burn structure next to us,” Riley said. “It’s my understanding the fires will be controlled and they won’t be burning all of the same things typical to a normal home fire that can cause that black smoke people may be concerned about.
“Certainly they would be good neighbors to have.”
In addition, Willems said the location is one of project’s best advantages.
“The location also makes sense because it’s close to the hospital, the college and all of the growth that is taking place on the west end of town, so response time would be minimal,” Willems said. “Plus the infrastructure is already here. There’s water and electricity already established on site.”
The department plans to fuel training fires with Class A combustibles, which include wood, old couches and many other items found in a typical home, Willems said.
The burn building will also feature a backup natural gas pipeline to reduce smoke on days when the wind is blowing towards the hospital and an automatic ventilation system should a fire burn too hot.
“We’re not going to use any petroleum in lighting fires, so there won’t be huge black clouds of smoke pouring out of the building,” Willems said. “We really don’t produce that much smoke either. In fact you’d be hard pressed to tell we were burning.
“The bottom line though is if the wind is blowing towards the hospital we won’t burn, that’s all there is to it.”
In addition to its location, residents have questioned whether a live burn building is necessary.
Willems argues it is because all firefighters must go through live fire training as required by state regulations.
Before asbestos abatements, the fire department staged live fire training in town by burning old, dilapidated buildings.
But burning old buildings containing asbestos for training purposes is no longer permitted and disposing the toxic insulator is far too expensive, Willems said.
And since Craig does not have a training facility the department is forced to send its firefighters all over the state including Hayden, Denver and Dotsero, to receive live fire training.
With 30 volunteers on staff, Willems said sending five or six out of the area for training puts the entire district at risk.
An average fire in Craig requires a response team of at least 10 to 12 firefighters, Willems said.
Daytime calls occasionally incite a response from only half that because it is an all volunteer department and everyone has other jobs.
“If I want to send five or six guys to Hayden for live fire training and we have a big daytime fire here in Craig, we’re in big trouble because we don’t have enough people,” Willems said. “This facility allows us to train right here and should a call come in, we’re ready to roll.”
If safety is not a good enough reason to garner community support, Willems said the tower and burn building also comes with a cash incentive.
The Insurance Services Office, through the Public Protection Classification program, analyzes a community’s ability to suppress fires and sets insurance premiums accordingly.
“Having the burn facility would actually save a lot of people money because our ISO rating would go down, which will cause most people’s fire insurance costs to go down as well,” Willems said.