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Colo. department gets best technology to prepare for the worst

By Michael Davidson
The Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado)

BOULDER, Colo. — When Glenn Smith was training to be a firefighter, the fire academy wasn’t what it is today. Firefighters had eight weeks of training, if they were lucky. If they weren’t, they were thrown into the fire — literally.

That was 20 years ago, and now Smith — the acting battalion chief for North Metro Fire Rescue District’s training division — is anticipating the opening of the district’s state-of-the-art new training center.

The $18.5 million facility at 1006 Weld County Road 11, just across Broomfield’s border in Weld County, is scheduled to open in September.

The center will allow firefighters to train in exercises that mirror their experiences when responding to calls. Through simulators, instructors will be able to fill a three-story office building, single-family home and two-story retail building with smoke and flames that reach 1,800 degrees.

Many fire training centers still burn wood, hay or tires in exercises.

The center even has simulations for winter conditions. A specially designed test track will simulate icy roads, and rescue crews will be able to use a small pond to practice saving someone stranded on an icy river or lake.

“You can’t come up with a scenario for everything, but you can come pretty close,” North Metro Chief John O’Hayre said.

Currently, North Metro trains at less sophisticated facilities owned by the Denver and Arvada fire departments or North Washington Fire Protection District. Working around the schedules of other departments can be a logistical nightmare and severely limits the number of training exercises, Smith said.

“Anytime we increase our levels of training it is going to make our firefighters safer,” Smith said. “We’ll be able to deal with any type of emergency more efficiently and effectively.”

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