Drilling In The Desert

When the city of Tucson, AZ, decided to costruct a Regional Public Safety Academy, it consulted the most important people of all: the rank and file. Bryn Bailer examines the results and discusses how the $14.3 million cutting-edge facility meets the...


When the city of Tucson, AZ, signed up an architectural firm to design its $14.3 million Regional Public Safety Academy, it didn't just sit back and let civilians design the sorely needed, long-awaited training center. Planners talked with the suits, of course, but they were also smart enough to...


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"Firefighters are pretty good scroungers and innovators," he said. "But we've been training in bits and pieces. Now we'll be able to do this better, more efficiently - and safer."

Perhaps nowhere is that better illustrated than in the burn building, where the bread-and-butter training of recruits takes place. At the old academy, training instructors were limited not only by a primitive burner but also by an unalterable concrete burn building. To prevent recruits from memorizing the tiny building's layout, they were forced to act more like furniture movers than firefighting professionals - by filling the area with thrift-store couches and other unexpected items.

Flexibility Is Paramount

In contrast, the new burn building is nothing if not flexible. Walls are constructed of high-carbon-content concrete to better withstand temperature extremes. Doors are cut a few inches short so they can remain closed even after laying a hoseline. And the layout can be easily and endlessly reconfigured via a series of movable, interior maze walls.

Keep recruits guessing in the controlled atmosphere of the burn room, and you may save lives when they're thrown into the chaos of an actual fire, Ogden stressed.

"I can't tell you how many times (during a residential search) I've been lost in closets or got into a bathroom and couldn't find my way out," he said. "That's something that recruits need to experience here, rather than at a structure fire."

And now it's something that firefighters from departments outside Arizona also can experience, along with wildland firefighting, rope rescue or any number of training opportunities, said Shipman. "We're real excited," he noted. "You can literally walk in here and walk out with a punch list of certifications."

Moreover, academy officials say that all fire departments are welcomed - whether they want to pay to have an entire recruit class trained, or simply prefer to send a few supervisors through for low-cost certifications. That's because TFD recognizes that fire departments around the nation are "all in the same boat" when it comes to training, said Moritz. The funding just isn't readily available.

"Most organizations, to get (comprehensive training), have to travel to multiple sites," he said. "Here, it's all in one 158-acre area. We were lucky to have our community provide this facility for us. Our job now is to utilize it to the best ability of the fire service. We just need to reach out beyond our own doors."

We're looking for other reports about fire training academies. If you know of an innovative or unusual fire training program, please drop us a line via fax at 516-845-7109.


Bryn Bailer is a reporter for The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and a writing consultant for the Tucson Fire Department.