- Saturday, October 5, 2013, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Matt Beckett is fired up, to say the least.
It won’t be long before he and his fellow members of Craig Fire/Rescue will have a new training facility that’s fully operational, preparing them for a huge variety of challenges on the job.
The Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board fire tower is nearing completion. After breaking ground last December, construction for the 4,279-square-foot structure on Industrial Avenue recently finished, with work done by companies like Three Sons Construction and Anson Excavating & Pipe, as well as landscaping on the adjoining property by Bob Meckley.
As a whole, the building serves as a veritable labyrinth for firefighters using it to ready themselves for the hazards they could face in any given scenario. For instance, a steel door on the south side of the building is designed so it only can be opened with a crowbar or similar tools, giving fire professionals a point of reference should they be faced with an entryway that can’t be accessed easily.
“You can run 20 guys through this thing in an hour, and it doesn’t ever break,” Beckett said. “Going through the practice of forcing open a door is something we’ve never been able to do. We did have a prop for that, but it would only last one or two guys at a time, and they all need to learn how to get it done.”
On the first floor is a section of breakaway sheetrock, which gives firefighters a simulation of the physical exertion of knocking out a wall for an emergency room breach, with the material replaceable upon completion. Upstairs, a selection of metal wall panels attached to rails hanging from the ceiling can be arranged to resemble a tight, winding hall.
“The nice thing about the panels is you can move them around so it’s never the same,” Beckett said. “I’ve been through Hayden’s building so many times that it just can’t trip me up anymore.”
The floor and the roof also feature sections that can be adjusted for multiple scenarios.
The tower half of the building stands 53 feet high, a height which required a special variance from the city. Atop the edifice is a parapet with special anchors from which members of Craig Fire/Rescue can practice rappelling and rope rescues.
Certain portions of the facility were designed to resemble larger local buildings like hotels and apartments with balconies or outdoor staircases. Inside is a “confined space entry prop” intended to mimic the details of industrial locations, specifically those of power plant Tri-State, should the need arise.
“They have a lot of spaces where we would have to do rope rescue and technical rescues,” Beckett said. “For a million and a half dollars, we really wanted to cram as much in here as we could and make it worth the while of the taxpayers.”
The road to the fire tower has been a long one, stirring up a hotbed of public outcry about the allocation of funds from a 2006 mill levy to go toward a total $1.5 million for the project.
Fire Board President Byron Willems said the goal was to come in under budget, which the organization did, by about $60,000.
“It’s been a lot of work,” he said. “We started this back in 2010, and there have been some roadblocks here and there, but it’ll be great to have it up and running.”
The placement of the tower also was controversial, first being planned for a spot near The Memorial Hospital and Colorado Northwestern Community College before moving to its current location, which is near businesses like Thunder Rolls Bowling Center and Kmart, as well as some residences.
One element of the training center that still needs completion is an apparatus to be used in the specially insulated burn rooms, which will provide real circumstances in a controlled environment. Some community members have voiced concern since the project’s early stages about burn rooms creating excess smoke that will affect surrounding areas.
Beckett said he has visited facilities that are in close proximity to residential areas in other towns without causing problems.
Besides the cautionary measure of only using Class A burning materials like wood and hay, the objective during a training session is to not create enough smoke to cause a problem for neighboring buildings, he added.
In fact, a smoke machine will do much of the work, with the burn rooms’ main purpose being the heat.
“It will be able to pump it through the building, but it’s just theater smoke,” he said.
A standpipe also allows Craig Fire/Rescue to run hoses from one of two on-site hydrants or one of their trucks to get water circulating, giving the sensation of working in a burning building with its sprinkler system activated.
The fire board will host an open house Oct. 5 for the public to get an idea of what the tower will have to offer, complete with tours, demonstrations and a barbecue. Beckett will be unable to attend because of a family engagement, but he expects the presentation should give residents an idea of the necessity of the facility, its widespread uses and the overall safety involved.
“My guess is there will be more smoke coming off the burgers than there will be coming out of this building,” he said.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.