New center provides state-of-the-art firefighter training

New center simulates fire scenarios; departments learn same game plan

ckrotzer@theolympian.comApril 20, 2013 

19SIMULATION_S

Lacey Lt. Pat Harn runs operations from the Incident Command vehicle as Olympia assistant chief Pat Dale and Lacey battalion chief Steve Crimmins, from left, observe the house fire simulation in the command center at the Mark Noble Regional Fire Training Center in Olympia. (TONY OVERMAN/Staff Photographer)

TONY OVERMAN — The Olympian Buy Photo

Alert tones echoed as the voice of Olympia Fire Battalion Chief Doug Hewell came over the radio.

“Structure fire at 456 Main Street; flames showing,” Hewell said.

The call sent four fire engines, a ladder truck, battalion chief and medic unit to a two-story home with smoke billowing from the roof.

Olympia Fire Lt. Todd Carson was the first to the scene.

“This structure has a full basement,” Carson says on the radio to alert the incoming units. “We also have heavy fire involvement to the attic on the Charlie side — continue offensive strategy.”

Carson gives orders while sitting in the driver’s seat of a cutout fire engine in a darkened room.

Engine companies respond with the click of a mouse from firefighters seated at computers, each with a different view as they virtually respond in staggered times, similar to a real live-fire situation.

Another battalion chief checks in over the radio from his position inside another chunk of vehicle, the front half of a truck in the back of the training room.

The idea is to provide the dozen or so firefighters at the Mark Noble Regional Fire Training Center off Fones Road with the most real-life hands-on training scenario possible.

The firefighters watched the screens Thursday as the simulated home burned and virtual firefighters sprayed streams of water in the different rooms of the house.

The program gives firefighters options of rooms to go to next, as well as what tactics to use.

The focus of the training was on communication, radio use and strategies for attacking live fires.

“We have simulators in the absence of fires so we are much more effective in actual scenarios,” said Olympia Assistant Chief of Operations Pat Dale. “It’s so much faster and efficient and safe for firefighters.”

The simulation program allows learners to confront situations from a basic structure fire to fires with victims needing rescue.

The Olympia Fire Department provided simulation fire training starting in 2005 from a building off Boulevard Road until the entire operation was moved to the new training center this year.

Courses were taught by lecture, if at all, prior to the simulation training.

The training area was built on an 8-acre lot behind The Home Depot. It was named after the department’s only firefighter to die in the line of duty. Noble died from line-of-duty related brain cancer in 2005.

The center was built with a $16.5 million bond approved by voters, which covered the construction of a six-story commercial tower, two-story apartment building and the new incident command training center.

The incident command training center houses the simulator, the only one in the state. The next closest such centers are in Oregon, Montana and California, Dale said.

Its offerings attracts firefighters from other departments who pay to train at the facility. Crews from as far as Florida, Louisiana, California and Canada have come to train.

“We said we were going to make this a regional training center — it is our strategy for making this self-sustaining,” Dale said.

The integrated courses also provide similar training for Thurston County fire departments, which often respond to calls together.

“It’s a huge advantage for us, especially since Lacey and Olympia rely on each other so much for structure fire responsibility,” said Lacey Battalion Chief Steve Crimmons. “Our ability to operate together is 10 times what it was.”

Crimmons said many line of duty deaths are due to lack of communication or command control of the situation — both of which were techniques being worked on Thursday.

The purpose is to build repetition in command’s response and communication by running through each scenario multiple times with crews responding at different positions.

“We need a good initial radio report, describing what they have and what’s going on with the house,” Dale said.

Working together on radio communication will create consistency across the county, Dale said.

“I could not train to this level without a simulator, otherwise it would be a PowerPoint,” Dale said. “It gives them a couple layers deeper.”

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 ckrotzer@theolympian.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer

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