Building a Fire Training Facility

Issue 9 and Volume 8.

Although many departments conduct training exercises in donated burn buildings or other existing structures, having a facility that’s designed specifically for training can really elevate a department’s training opportunities. When it comes to making a purchasing decision, it’s essential to evaluate your organization’s needs, and then find the structure best suited to meet your training goals.

Which training structure is best for you? Following is a comparison of some of the available construction types to help you decide.

Large-scale training complexes are increasingly common, especially for organizations that train a large number of trainees annually. National fire service agencies and large departments are common proprietors of multiple-acre training bases. These comprehensive training sites are built to incorporate every emergency situation that a first responder might encounter—structural, industrial and aviation fires; they often incorporate multiple training technologies, including gas-based as well as digital fire. However, a project of this nature may not be feasible for many regional departments, and the planning and construction can take a considerable amount of time to complete.

Fixed Structures
Fixed structures are a great investment for departments that currently train using donated homes or abandoned buildings. Constructing a building for the sole purpose of fire training will allow your organization to stage complete burns and ignitions countless times without damaging or destroying your building. Construction companies outfit structures with heat shielding and ventilation to allow for large-scale burns that can be completely extinguished and reignited without damaging the building. Structures range in size and square footage, and can be multiple stories. Customization options allow you to tailor your structure to your training specialty. Exterior and interior firefighting can be practiced, as well as specialty training, such as hazmat, petrochemical and SCBA training.

Mobile Trailers
If constructing a building is outside your department’s budget, you should consider mobile training solutions. These are ideal for organizations without the dedicated space or budget for a fixed structure. They also don’t require the permits and land preparation that buildings and towers do, making the buying and construction processes both quicker and more streamlined.

Mobile trailers feature containers that are usable while on the back of a truck, and can be transported as needed. This is particularly beneficial to organizations that have trainees spread across a large territory. These trailers can range from single rooms to units as large as an 18-wheeler, allowing for multiple training scenarios.

Training Containers
Similar to mobile training trailers are training containers, which are ideal for organizations without the budget for a fixed facility, but that won’t need to frequently transport their training environment. Although containers can be transported if necessary, they’re typically placed in a fixed location. Because containers don’t require large amounts of space, they can be placed in the back of a firehouse or other property.

One container is often best suited for creating one training scenario. If you’d like multiple training opportunities, the container can be split to allow for both. Another option is to place multiple containers next to or on top of one another. Intricate training environments can be configured with multiple containers to create rooms and hallways. Containers can be stacked to create multiple levels and offset or joined to further vary the training. This configuration can be set up to closely mimic the layout of a residential or industrial building, or even more specialized locations. Containers have even been configured to recreate full-scale ships.

Typically, containers range from 20–40 feet. Your contractor should outfit the container with technology, such as heat shielding, ventilation, safety systems, and power and fuel systems to transform the structure’s shell into a realistic training center.

Fire Technology
Your choice of structure should also take into consideration which fire technology you prefer. Currently, structures can be outfitted with traditional gas-based fire, Class A materials or digital fire. Although each supplier uses different technologies in their structures, many are making strides to make training more repeatable, convenient and safer.

Perhaps the most popular fire technology is gas-based fire, an ideal training mechanism for nearly any industry or specialty. Propane and natural gas fires produce real heat and smoke for a training experience that closely models real-life conditions. Gas fires can also be used to accurately simulate nearly any fire behavior. Some manufacturers utilize a pilot module to allow the instructor to safely stop and start evolutions. The module typically houses a forced air pilot system, which guarantees reliable ignition under any circumstances.

The traditional method of burning Class A materials has also seen some improvements due to new technology. Now, dual combustion technology creates fire using both gas and wood. This system allows trainees to completely extinguish the fire and reignite it almost immediately. Additionally, your structure can be outfitted with an afterburner, which cleans the smoke- and hydrocarbon-filled air to meet clean air requirements. This is ideal for organizations that would like to train with real heat and flame, but are wary of releasing toxins into the air.

Large-scale training structures can now be outfitted with digital technology. LED panels are used to create realistic, self-generating, digital flames that respond to the water application of a hoseline. This is useful for situations where actual fire is unsafe or not permitted. Digital flames are useful for a range of training, including engine operations, advancing the hoseline, initial attack and water supply.

Choose Wisely
A wide range of training structures exists to help meet every training objective. Evaluating your organization’s needs, trainees’ skill levels and the hazards they may face will help determine what structure is best for you.