The Chesterfield County Department of Fire and EMS celebrated the opening of their state-of-the-art fire training tower at the Enon Fire Training Center last Thursday. The seven-story training tower capable of simulating live fire using a computer-controlled, propane-fueled training system and will provide firefighters with different training opportunities, such as fighting live fire in multi-story buildings and simulating emergencies in hotels, office buildings, garden apartments, and industrial complexes.
Firefighters will also be able to train in ladder and elevator rescues and in high-rise and confined-space rescues, and local law enforcement officers will be able to conduct tactical training operations and K-9 training.
Edward L. Senter Jr., Fire and EMS chief for Chesterfield County, said the training tower has been in the works and was needed for many years, as they have not been able to train or fight fires in in multi-level buildings since their past training tower was condemned five years ago. Senter noted nearly half of their personnel had less than a decade of experience and that they have new people coming into the organization and they need to focus a lot of time and effort on training them in ways of effectively fighting fires.
“There’s always been a challenge to train the next generation of firefighters and it’s going to become even more challenging in the future. Our department workforce continues to evolve over time as the more tenured and experienced firefighters retire and begin a new chapter in their life and are being replaced by younger, less experienced members. Today, over 45% of our uniformed members have less than 10 years of experience,” Senter said. “Regular quality training will be essential in filling the gap created by this tremendous loss of experience and institutional knowledge. In addition, these new firefighters will need to learn how to effectively and safely deal with low frequency, high risk scenarios that will continue to grow with this county.”
Senter said despite a 26 percent drop over the past decade in fire related incidents, fires still present an even greater risk than before due to the use of lightweight construction, popularity of larger homes with open floor plans, and heavy presence of synthetic materials and structural components and furnishings. As a result, fires today burn hotter and faster and produce more toxic smoke, and as the county grows, Senter said there will be more of this type of construction and higher density developments with taller buildings where fire can easily spread from one building to the next.
“We do have multi-level buildings here, we have three, four-story multi-family dwellings, we have Courtyard Marriott, we have hotels that are being built in the county and we are likely to see higher density developments in the future,” Senter said. “People today … like to live in that city environment, they like to live where they can work [and] play, they don’t have to drive a long way to get to work, so we’re going to see higher density multi-level developments in the future, so this training tower is certainly coming at the right time to gear up our firefighters to be prepared for those hazards and risks in the future.”