IA Dept. Constructing New Fire Training Facility

April 18, 2023
The Muscatine Fire Department purchased three Conex containers and working to turn these units into a brand-new live fire training facility.

Apr. 17—Muscatine's City Council last month approved the purchase of three Conex containers for $9,485 for the Muscatine Fire Department, with the price being covered by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Although these containers won't be ready for the latest round of Fire Academy applicants to use, work is now being done to turn these units into a brand-new live fire training facility at Muscatine Fire Department Station 2. A substitute for the acquired mobile homes the academy was using before for training, these units are said to provide both a cost savings and an impactful training tool for the department.

Before the purchase, Battalion Chief Darrell Janssen, Capt. Andy Summit and Lt. Andrew McSorley researched the Conex units thoroughly, leading to the conclusion that through some moderation and conversion, the containers are flexible enough to simulate realistic fire scenarios while also having a lower impact on the environment and on the department's time and finances.

"Many on-staff spent hours preparing the trailers we were using for fire training, putting up drywall, fixing the floors and prepping for the live burns," Summitt said. "It was a costly, time-consuming process. We knew that there had to be a better way, one that was more durable and less costly."

"(The Conex boxes) are safer, easier, last forever and really cheap," McSorley added.

Once the training facility has completed construction, members of the Iowa City Fire Department, which already uses Conex containers in its training, will stop by to help instruct the Muscatine Fire Department on how to do the burns within the boxes.

The first of the Conex boxes, measuring 8 feet by 40 feet, arrived April 11 at the Stewart Road training site. Because of the concrete pad's slight arch leading to one end of the container being 16 inches off the ground, a level pad made of crushed asphalt also had to be installed by the Department of Public Works. More pads will be created before the arrival of the other containers.

Hoffmann, Inc. and MUSCO lighting, meanwhile, donated some additional help, including a welder, and a forklift truck to help the additional installation and fabrication for the new training facility, for which the fire department expressed gratitude.

Once all the containers are in Muscatine, the plan is for the first container to house the burn room. It as well as the second and third boxes will be used to simulate rooms in a home, with the second and third boxes having ports for smoke machine pipes to be plugged into in order to replicate a smoke-filled house. Walls will also be built within the containers to further help make the simulation feel accurate to real life, while additions like fake bathrooms and closets will remind those going through the training to search areas such as those thoroughly.

According to Summit, once the current academy trainees finish using the county burn trailer, it will permanently be replaced by the newly completed facility.

"My vision is that in the next couple of years we will go up maybe two, three and four stories high," Summitt said. "We can stack them to make an upstairs, and to simulate basements. You can even stack them vertically to simulate elevators that you can repel down into. It will be the future training ground for sure."


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