EAU CLAIRE — Firefighters from 15 departments throughout west-central Wisconsin agreed on the toughest challenge as they prepared for an upcoming state certification test: The ladder challenge was not going to be easy.
At a new training facility on the west campus of Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, the firefighters set a tall ladder reaching three stories up, then climbed the ladder while carrying another ladder on their backs. The idea was to hook that ladder over the crown of the roof. That was just one of several challenges the firefighters practiced Saturday, Oct. 7, as they prepared for the test.
October 8-14 is Fire Prevention Week, and firefighters are urging people to educate themselves about what they can do to prevent or react to fires. But fire safety also involves having well-trained firefighters who are continually improving their level of preparedness. The CVTC facilities in Eau Claire, in addition to enhancing the training of the next generation of firefighters through the CVTC FireMedic program, are excellent resources for area fire departments and their training programs.
This year, CVTC has two major additions to its facilities and equipment. The testing preparation stations were set up around a multi-faceted three-story "splash tower." And the CVTC fleet of fire trucks now features a new Pierce fire truck equipped with the latest W. S. Darley & Co. pump manufactured in Chippewa Falls.
"Every certified firefighter has to raise a ladder and go to the peak of the building," said Chris McHenry, FireMedic program director at CVTC. "The building we had for that was older and contractors told us it wasn't safe to repair."
The splash tower is taller, and has four open windows for students or firefighters to practice entering a building from an upper-story window. "We can raise four ladders at a time in this building," McHenry said. "And in this facility, it's safe for the students to get down."
"Students can practice ladder evacuations in a nonemergency setting, so we can take the procedures step by step," said Chad Peterson, CVTC instructor and an Eau Claire firefighter.
The third floor of the structure is used for ropes training. Firefighters and students can rappel off the structure. The safest way to come down, of course, is by the stairs — which are also handy for firefighters to practice carrying down an injured patient.
"The first floor has restricted passage areas," McHenry said. "Like trying to crawl between two wall studs with an air pack on. CVTC welding students built a frame to create confined space access points."
Other CVTC departments will be able to use the facility as well. "We have a jail door that's going to be built into the structure so the jail academy students can practice cell entry," McHenry said.
McHenry noted that the facility was mostly designed in its versatility by CVTC faculty and staff, with people from different disciplines contributing ideas on features.
The new fire truck, however, comes with specifications that make it usable not just in training but in real emergency fire situations.
"The truck is set up for National Fire Protection Association Standards, so it can be used by the city of Eau Claire if they ever needed it on a call," Peterson said.
The truck replaces an 18-year-old truck that had already undergone some major repairs, McHenry said. "CVTC has long had two fire trucks," McHenry said. "The trucks are used pretty extensively for driving training and for pumping at training burns. Our students will use it many hours; it will get more wear-and-tear than a city fire truck."
McHenry said the truck has side impact roll-over protections that help prevent injuries in case of an accident.
The major feature of the truck is a Pierce-designed PUC pump, which has fewer moving parts.
"The truck can be moving and pumping at the same time," McHenry said. "With other trucks, you can't do that. Fire truck technology has changed substantially."
At the firefighter testing practice session, the new truck was used to pump for scenarios inside a mobile fire trailer and as a setting for practice setting up a water supply at a fire.
McHenry stressed how such new equipment and facilities is not just a benefit to students entering the CVTC FireMedic program, but for the cause of fire safety throughout the region.
"In the fall and spring we bring in firefighters from all over the area," McHenry said. "Not all schools with firefighting programs have the certification exam, so people from those areas come here. We have 750 students a year come through the college for firefighter training, a lot for continuing education for members of local volunteer fire departments."