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Iowa firefighters don't have to wait for an abandoned building in order to participate in a live fire training exercise. A unique combination of funding and innovation is making live fire training more accessible to every firefighter in Iowa with the State Fire Service Training Bureau's Live Fire Attack Simulator.
The simulator, built by the Pro Safe Co. of Ontario, was put into operation in the summer of 2000. Mounted on a 35-foot trailer, the simulator has a second story that folds down so that the unit can be transported anywhere in the state.
Live fires are simulated inside the trailer using LP-fired burners and nitrogen gas to simulate smoke. Four floor burners are located throughout the trailer, plus it also has a roof burner for simulating the rollover stage of an interior fire. Movable panels inside the trailer allow interior room and hallway configurations to be changed. Horizontal ventilation can be done with sliding window panels and vertical ventilation can be practiced with replaceable plywood roof panels.
A command officer controls the firefighting operations from a control center at the front of the trailer, where a window provides the commander a view of the operations. Redundant safety systems allow for instantaneous shutdown and ventilation of the entire trailer by the command officer or an instructor inside the trailer with the students. Communications with the instructors are maintained with portable radios.
The trailer was built at a cost of $200,000. Currently, it is traversing the state and has made 25 stops in its first year of operation. Four or five four-hour live fire training sessions are taught at each location with an average of 18 students per session. So far, over 2,000 of Iowa's 20,000 firefighters have circulated through the trailer. The training sessions come to Iowa fire departments for free by virtue of a special training appropriation provided by the Iowa legislature.
Instructor John Donnelly of the State Fire Service Training Bureau instructs each session with the help of two or three members of the bureau's field staff. "There are so many features to this trailer that the possibilities for what we can do with it are endless," Donnelly said.
After he completed a circuit through the trailer, Deputy Chief Randy Williams of the Brooklyn, IA, Fire Department said that as far as he was concerned the trailer simulated a realistic firefighting situation.
Firefighter Jim Reiss, a two-month member of the Amana Fire Department, said, "It gave me my first taste of what firefighting is all about."
The State Fire Service Training Bureau, located in Ames, falls under the auspices of the State Fire Marshal's division of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.
Another live fire simulation training trailer is also circulating Iowa. A private company, Customized Fire Training of Graettinger, has constructed two trailers. Classes put on by Customized Fire Training are also funded through the state fire training fund appropriation.
Steve Meyer, a Firehouse® contributing editor, has been a member of the Garrison, IA, Volunteer Fire Department since 1981 and has served as chief for 16 years. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program and is a contract instructor for Leadership and Administration with the NFA. Meyer was the 1998 State of Iowa Firefighter of the Year.