The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 2, 2013

Autry Tech, Enid Fire Department proposing $513,000 fire training tower

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Autry Technology Center and Enid Fire Department are working to give firefighters real-world training experience by building a fire training tower in Enid.

The proposed tower, still in the planning stages, would give firefighters from across northwest Oklahoma a place to train for firefighting and rescue operations in elevated structures.

Autry Technology Center already serves as a regional fire training center, with a dedicated burn building, skills development building, classroom and storage space.

Autry was one of the first regional fire training centers in the state, but it still lacks a fire training tower common to other regions’ training sites.

“All of the regional training centers built since Autry have included a training tower,” said EFD Training Officer Corbin Baker. “In northwest Oklahoma, there is not a fire training tower where firefighters can practice low-frequency, high-risk technical rescues.”

EFD and Autry currently are raising funds to remedy that, by constructing a five-story metal structure in which firefighters could train for technical rescue scenarios.

Baker said technical rescue situations could include rescuing injured people from confined spaces, aerial and ground ladder rescues, or “high-angle” rescues that require hoisting or lowering rescue personnel.

He said the new training tower also would provide integrated fire training, to combine the skills of firefighting and technical rescue.

“You could have a situation where you have a four-story building with a fire on the first floor and someone who needs to be rescued on the fourth floor,” Baker said. “You need this kind of structure to simulate that, and to train for that kind of technical rescue.”

NW Oklahoma need

The need for a technical rescue in this part of the country likely would be in a grain elevator or similar industrial setting.

Baker said EFD currently trains in several elevators, but having a designated training tower would provide a safer and more accessible training environment.

“You add an unnecessary element of risk when you train in that kind of facility,” Baker said. “We have to get all our personnel and equipment up to a 135-foot gallery level in that elevator. In the real world, we’ve got half our fire department 135 feet up in the air in an elevator, and we’re out-of-pocket if something else real happens.”

The need for specialized training to respond to emergencies and fires in grain elevators was highlighted in a March 2009 elevator fire in Hydro. A team of firefighters went into the elevator and became disoriented. Before they could be rescued, the fire had claimed the life of the Hydro fire chief and injured four firefighters.

“What I want is for that to not happen to my guys,” Baker said, “and training is where you prevent those kind of injuries.”

Baker said he wants to improve training opportunities for EFD for the sake of both firefighters and the victims they intend to rescue.

“We want to maximize safety for the responders — our goal is that everyone goes home at the end of the shift,” Baker said. “And, we want to minimize the level of injury to victims. The quicker we can get someone out of that space and to medical care, the lesser their injuries will be.”

Baker said the training opportunities with the new tower would not stop with EFD and other career fire departments.

Emergency medical personnel, regional law enforcement and rural fire departments also would benefit from the tower’s training facilities, Baker said.

Partnership effort

Dallas Krout, Business and Industry Services coordinator for Autry Tech, said demand for training rural firefighters is high.

“We train a large number of volunteer firefighters,” Krout said.

He said Autry already serves as the primary training facility for volunteer firefighters in northwest Oklahoma, but demand would increase with addition of the training tower.

“If we’re going to be the major regional training center, it’s important that we have the facilities sufficient to meet their needs,” Krout said. “The important thing is that we can expand training to more firefighters. There are a lot of firefighters who need this tower training, but they don’t have a place in northwest Oklahoma to receive the training. If we build this tower, they’ll be coming to Enid to get their training.”

James Strate, superintendent at Autry Technology Center, said Autry is partnering with EFD and local industry to raise $513,000 needed to build the new fire training tower. He said about $150,000 in funding already has been committed.

“It’s going to be a partnership of the whole community, and we’re going to get there,” Strate said. “It’s critical for our community and for our ability to offer safety training.”

“If you can save one life, it’s worth the $500,000,” Strate said. “You can’t put a price on that.”

Strate said the benefits of the new training tower will extend to communities beyond the local area.

“This isn’t just an Enid and Garfield County deal,” Strate said. “This is about north-central and northwest Oklahoma. We’ve talked about it long enough. Now, we need to do it.”

Strate said he plans to have the funds raised by this fall, and the tower built by the end of the fiscal year next June.