Imaginary Fires to Fade Soon for Ark. Responders

Training exercises that forced Fort Smith firefighters to pretend that trees were blazing buildings will soon end, replaced by “an actual building they can touch,” Battalion Chief Tery Graves said Monday at the site of a future training tower.

“Training scenarios today and in the past consisted of using your imagination,” Graves said. “You go out with the crew and say, ‘Hey, we’re fixing to pull up to a large commercial structure that’s on fire and we have smoke coming out of the second story window.’ In actuality, you’re pulling up to a large tree just sitting off the side of the road.”

Firefighters and city officials gathered Monday at the Fort Smith landfill to break ground on a $1.17 million four-story training tower that will feature a “burn room.”

“Best of all, when they go up to this building, there will actually be smoke coming out the second floor window,” Graves said.

Fire Chief Mike Richards said the “much needed” facility will be unmatched in western Arkansas.

“Upon completion, this facility will save the citizens of Fort Smith money by not having to send so many of our firefighters out of the city, or in some cases out of state, for the types of training we will now be able to do right here at home,” Richards said.

Plans for the tower have been discussed for more than a decade, according to Richards.

Funds to pay for the tower come from saved Act 833 funds and a one-time portion of the Fire Department’s share of a city tax dedicated for upgrades. It will be built on a 20-acre site at the Fort Smith landfill by low bidder Beshears Construction Inc. of Fort Smith.

“All I can say is let’s plan to be back here for the ribbon-cutting in February when construction is complete,” Mayor Sandy Sanders said.

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©2014 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)

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