By Nikki Jamieson
With the simple snap of the combi tool, the ribbon was cut and Taber’s new Fire Training Facility was officially declared open. It was to a crowd of about 20 people, not including the fire fighters, and blistering winds and rain – hardly ideal, ribbon-cutting weather by my account, but the fire fighters looked warm in their gear. It also marked the end of my tour of the Taber Fire Training Facility.
This building is the result of years of planning, designing, dreaming and campaigning. It became a reality this year in January, when the Town of Taber donated the land and the Taber Charity Auction donated the money to build it. The facility is expected to bring in fire fighter teams from all around Alberta and, most importantly from the dollar’s point of view, be cost neutral.
It was my first fire training center. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since the only fire training facility I’ve seen was on ‘Flashpoint’, and somehow I doubted that this one was going to be a concrete low-rise with what appeared to be strategically-placed furniture, panic buttons and gas valves in the fire station’s backyard.
That said, I applaud this most wonderful initiative; as someone who gets leery around flames bigger then those on a candle, I am glad that the guys who are actually in charge of putting out said fires want to practice putting out fires. Because the truth is, there are not going to be a lot of fires that often, much to my relief. So if my place is on fire, I want them to be sure – nay, absolutely confident – in their ability to put it out, and keep it out.
My first impressions of the building itself, was that it looked deceitfully simple. Metal walls, concrete floor, metal shutters on the windows and an open staircase, it vaguely reminds you of an abandoned warehouse.
But as you start to explore, little features start popping up – there is a series of trap doors that go straight down three floors, this ladder here leads to the roof, that doors leads to the balcony, we can move these panels here to form barriers, we can stage this room so it’s like a house, we can change the angle on this roof – leaving you a bit reeling from their excitement – Taber’s fire fighters are quite proud of their facility, to the point it’s contagious – and wondering just what they plan on doing in here, filming fight scenes? If one were to add in a green screen and special effects, it would be doable.
The building itself is made up of customized shipping containers piled on top of each other, four stories high. It sits right smack in the middle of 3.8 acres of gravel in the northeast corner of Taber’s industrial area, so unfortunately there wasn’t much in terms of a windbreak, and it was cold. But, there is literally nothing around that can catch on fire, so the wind will not be much of an issue when the fire fighters start practicing. It could use a little colour in my opinion, but once the fire, smoke, and high-pressure water hoses start going, it’s going to be a moot point – everything will be the same shade of charcoal.
Surprisingly, there are no plans to start or bring up any actual fire to the upper levels. Instead, they will be using smoke machines and screens to simulate fighting fires; fire fighters simply aim the hose at it, and they react like a real fire, growing or shrinking depending on where it’s hit. While none were set up during the walkthrough, it was described as using touch screens to train fire fighters, as no one wants to throw a newbie fire fighter into an enclosed space with a raging fire – that’s asking for trouble.
Then there is the true showpiece of this place: the fire room. Looking more like a medieval dungeon than the giant of a fireplace that it is, this is the only room in the training center that you can start an actual fire in. Built to withstand 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit – or about 983 degrees Celsius – the room has reinforced paneling, a metal grate to stack flammable objects on and a slot on the ceiling you can hang said flammable objects on. The only way in is through a set of (reinforced of course) doors leading in, and a conveniently placed window.
Unfortunately, there was nothing currently lit in the room, or we would have been a lot warmer, but from the soot covering the walls and streaking the ceiling outside, it was pretty clear that it had been lit a few times already.
While, as mentioned above, the majority of their firefights won’t be against actual fire, they will still be using water to fight them. Which leads to the next question; how do you get water out of steel and concrete boxes?
Between each container, there is a little gap that allows water through to prevent ice freezing and tearing open a new hole on the building. There is a slight tilt on each floor to encourage water to flow in one direction, and drains will be put in where the water pools. Finally, they carefully dug out underneath the containers so the water can run underneath. In theory, the place shouldn’t remain all that wet for long.
Overall, it’s surprisingly efficient. Each level has multiple uses and different way for fire fighters to train. For example, from the third floor they can practice balcony rescues, rope lines, window rescues or stage a room to put out an apartment fire. The fourth floor has the added bonus of rooftop access, the second has a slanted roof that changes angles and the first has movable walls. The only place that doesn’t have multiple uses is the fire dungeon, but since you can burn so much for it, and it was specifically designed to contain fire, we’ll call it even.
There are also plans to fill in a man-made pond – it’s already dug in – to use as a water reservoir so the fire fighters can keep reusing and recycling the water they use to put out their fires, and they are bringing in some old train cars to practice putting out crude oil and propane fires and such. So they’re pretty much covering all their bases, unless they want to practice putting out fires in zero gravity.
But the center is not just for teaching the new members how to put out a fire, or running drills so you stay prepared, it’s also to ensure that they know how to properly put out a fire. Insurance companies have started actually suing fire departments, for causing too much damage when putting out a fire or not putting it out properly, in turn causing more damage.
In Alberta, Bill 49 of the Municipal Government Amendment Act passed in 2009, stating that it was illegal for fire fighters to be sued for damages caused by putting out a fire. But it is still possible for them be sued if they put out a fire and it comes back, or if someone claims that they didn’t have the proper equipment to put out the fire properly. Got to love those legal loopholes. On top of that, according to a 2008 court case in Nova Scotia, they are likely to sue in the insuree’s name.
As a renter, I know the quickest way to get your landlord to come running to your aid is to utter the words “water damage”; because that means possible damage to the structure of your home and – even scarier – mold. But, considering the alternative to water damage in this case is letting your house burn down, I’m pretty sure most people would rather have a mold abatement team come in. Yes, these guys should know the best methods to put a fire out – no putting water on a grease fire and such – but if there ever was a fire in my home, I want to be sure that thing is out.
The fire fighter’s of Taber look like they have all their bases covered with this facility and the new additions that they are planning to put in. And the fire fighters seem ecstatic about it – I guess driving out to Lethbridge to use their gets tedious – so that’s another plus for it.
Overall, while I would not want to be in that fire dungeon of theirs – even if it’s soaking wet with nothing flammable in sight – I think they did a good job here. It’s practical with it’s multi-uses, and it looks clearly thought out, both which are very important in my opinion when it comes to putting out fire. So practice to your hearts content; I’m glad to know you’re not letting those skills get rusty.