BFD gets training facility funds

Published 6:39 pm Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When former Brookhaven firefighter and grant writer Jared Evansasked former Fire Chief Bob Watts if he could write a grant to tryto get a high-tech live-fire training facility, neither of themreally thought it was a possibility.

“We’ve gone for grants for far less money and didn’t get them, so Ithought, ‘What’s it going to hurt to try for this one,'” saidWatts.

A live-fire simulator is a structure that allows firefighters toenter different interior structure fire situations in a protectedenvironment. The kind BFD officials hoped to get would becomputer-controlled and would have different settings for fire,heat and smoke, giving firefighters a chance to train regularly inreal fire situations.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Evans, who had been successful at grant writing for volunteer firedepartments all over the state, saw it as a challenge to get thetrainer, but didn’t put too much stake in the department’s chanceseither.

“Brookhaven had always struck out at fire department grants foryears, and this was the first grant Chief Watts let me write,”Evans said. “I had been on for about a year, and I was trying tocome up with a project that would be beneficial to the firementhemselves but also to the city.”

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency informed thecity they’d been turned down for the grant, and Watts and Evansthought the project was dead in the water. No big deal, they said,it’s what they expected.

Watts went on to retire, and Evans took another job and leftBFD.

But then the powers that be took another look at theapplication.

Just a few weeks ago, the city was informed that the $350,000grant, the largest fire grant in the state this year, had beenawarded. That meant not only that Brookhaven now has a live firetraining facility on the way, but it counts big on the city’s fireinsurance rating, Evans said.

“It’s a big benefit to Brookhaven’s Class Six rating,” he said. “Idon’t know if it’s a strong six or what, but regardless of wherethey are, it’s going to be a nice boost. When I was trying tofigure out what to write for, I knew equipment is nice, but doesn’thave a big bang effect on the rating like this would.”

Current Fire Chief Tony Weeks said his next move is to go look atother similar facilities in the state, though there aren’t many,and start looking into the bid process.

“I just want to see what they’ve got to get some ideas what we canget, and get specifications on it,” he said. “Then we have to gothrough the bid process. Right now it’s in the early stages.”

Weeks said the facility will be on wheels, and while it will havethe capability of being mobile, it probably won’t move a lot. Theinterior will be fueled by propane and is computer-controlled fordifferent kinds of scenarios.

“It’s got a flashover simulator in it, which will help, anddepending on how you get it made, it can have all kinds of props init,” Weeks said. “Like a mock bed, for a bedroom fire, or a mockkitchen…. It will give us a lot of live fire training that youdon’t normally get, and it’s being used under controlledconditions.”

And another next step, Weeks said, is to get more of his guyscertified to supervise the training in the burn unit.

“We’re going to also get some guys instructor-certified, and onceit’s set up in Brookhaven, other departments are welcome to cometrain as long as we’ve got people to supervise it,” he said. “I’mgoing to get some folks in instructor class; I’ll try to have twoor three on each shift.”

And Watts said he’s just glad that little gamble paid off a yearand a half ago.

“I’m just proud the department is getting it because I feel likeit’ll be good not only for the city, but for the volunteers and anyother departments that want to use it. I’m sure it’ll beavailable,” he said. “I know it’ll make for a better department,because any training you can get to step it up a notch.”

Watts also noted that neither he nor Evans are there anymore to seethe fruits of their labor up close, but that it’s still a victoryfor both of them.

“I really appreciate the effort Jared put into it. I know he’sproud of it too,” Watts said. “Even though neither one of us isthere now, that’s not what it’s about. I’m just proud of the firedepartment for getting it, and I never would have dreamed we wouldhave gotten it.”

Evans agreed, saying BFD is moving into a new phase of training andreadiness with the new unit.

“Before this, we didn’t have a way to train. We could go to CentralStation all day long and do sit-down classroom, or hook a hose upto the truck and spray water, but there was no way to keepourselves sharp in Brookhaven,” he said. “There are 40 firementhere, and every fireman knows that when you don’t fight fires veryoften, you lose your edge. This was the mother of all projects inmy view.”