For more than 20 years, the Spokane Valley Fire Department used a five-story concrete tower off Sullivan Road on the edge of the Industrial Park for fire training. Last year, a section of concrete in the fifth-floor burn room failed, forcing the department to train elsewhere for more than a year while the tower was repaired.
“The concrete roof broke,” said Battalion Chief Brian Foster-Dow.
An examination of the rest of the building found weak spots in other areas caused by years of high temperatures.
The department took the opportunity not only to repair the tower, but to add on. This week, firefighters from the department and Spokane County Fire District 8 were testing the new burn room and getting in some night training at the same time.
The new addition at the base of the tower is still made of concrete blocks, but the blocks are lined with heat-resistant tiles. The protective tiles can be replaced as needed without redoing the entire structure.
There are temperature sensors in the burn room and between the tile and concrete so firefighters can monitor temperatures instantly.
“It’s way cheaper,” Foster-Dow said.
The old burn room was just a big empty space.
“This has some corners and some separate rooms,” he said. “It’s more realistic.”
During training, a fire was lit in the burn room using wooden pallets and straw. Crews readied hoses and equipment, moving at a run as they would during a real fire. A fan was moved into position near the front door as a firefighter went around back to “break” a window.
The idea was to break the window, then open the door and turn on the fan to blow smoke and heat out the back, Foster-Dow said. Firefighters then quickly moved in with the hose to douse the flames.
The timing has to be just right, Foster-Dow said.
“It will increase the intensity of the fire in the burn room,” he said.
Each group of firefighters repeated the drill three times, resetting their equipment and discussing what went right and wrong. Crew members rotated duties so each would be familiar with all aspects of fighting a fire. The idea is to repeat everything so many times that each firefighter automatically does everything the same way every time.
“They don’t have to think about what they’re doing,” Foster-Dow said. “It’s automatic.”
Last week’s training had the added difficulty of being done at night in a parking lot full of shadows.
“It’s a whole new set of challenges,” Foster-Dow said.
The department has plans for a few more improvements to the tower, including a basement stair prop and a garage door prop to test firefighters in even more simulated situations.