$700K fire training tower to allow firefighters to practice more complicated scenarios

In this file photo from June 12, 2013, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical recruits train at the department’s training center, 1941 Haskell Ave.

Local firefighters will soon be able to train for more complicated scenarios, including putting out fires and making rescues in tall apartment buildings.

The Lawrence City Commission recently approved issuing $700,000 in bonds to pay for the construction of a new fire training tower, which will replace a tower that dates back to 1993. Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department officials are planning a new tower that will allow firefighters to train with various new features, including multiple entries, inset balconies and multilevel scissor stairwells.

“When you think of the high-rise buildings here in Lawrence, the stairwells are laid out in that manner, which will allow us to practice doing evolutions for what we call high-rise drills,” said Division Chief Shaun Coffey. “It simulates a multistory building fire, and we have to go into those and we have to stretch our lines a certain way.”

The current fire training tower is a simple L-shaped structure located behind the department’s training center, 1941 Haskell Ave. The project was included as part of the city’s 2018 Capital Improvement Plan, and the current tower will be demolished and replaced by the new tower, according to a memo from city staff to the commission. The design work for the new tower is underway and a construction contract will be sent to the commission for review at an upcoming meeting.

In addition to the multilevel building setup, Coffey said another portion of the training structure will resemble a residential home. Because the structure will be more weather tight than the current tower, Coffey said it will allow them to simulate multiple rooms.

“It will allow us to build what we call training props: artificial walls and rooms,” Coffey said. “As firefighters come in, we can set up a three-bedroom house, so they have to come in and find their way through this house to extinguish the fire or perform rescues.”

Coffey said the new tower will also have features that make training more realistic. Those include a pipeline inside the building with various kinds of intakes that firefighters can practice attaching hoses to, as well as a system that will release theatrical smoke throughout the building so firefighters can practice working with obscured vision. In addition, he said the new tower will have better temperature monitoring and controls for the burn room where the fires are set.

The fire department anticipates construction of the new fire training tower to begin by late summer, with completion in 2018, according to the memo.