Hands on training
Hattiesburg firefighters are nearing the end of a project that will give their training academy four more training props.
Slated for completion in December are a search-and-rescue training facility with moveable walls, a collapsed building prop, an industrial scenario simulator and a burn pad to simulate Dumpster and car fires, said Robert Pickering, director of training/ hazmat for the fire department.
“We’re trying to develop some hands-on training props – something we’ve never really had at the Hattiesburg Fire Department,” Pickering said.
After spending about $50,000 on the project, which began in March 2009, Pickering said the city saved about $250,000 by using the labor of Hattiesburg firefighters and purchasing materials directly instead of using contractors.
“It’s been a slow process over the last year and a half,” Pickering said, adding that most of the work has been done by firefighters between calls. “Ninety percent of the guys who have worked down here have been on duty that day, so we were paying that labor anyway.”
Pickering said the fire department has about $15,000 earmarked in next fiscal year’s for work to finish the props. But requests for $35,000 to run a water line down to the wooded area the props occupy near the academy building off J.M. Tatum Industrial Drive were denied by City Council, which is dealing budget-belt tightening for next fiscal year.
“It won’t be finished, but it will be to a point so it can be utilized more than it is now,” HFD Chief David Webster said.
Pickering said not having a water line running to the site will put a crimp in training exercises because it takes about an hour to pack up the amount of hose necessary to get from the nearest hydrant to the props.
“Currently, we don’t have a fire hydrant on our training site, so we have to run about 2,500 feet from the nearest fire hydrant,” he said.
The training grounds already see plenty of use, with Pickering holding department-wide service training about once a month. HFD also holds several contract certification classes through the Mississippi State Fire Academy in Jackson there.
In these “field delivery programs,” the state academy sends lesson plans, and Hattiesburg instructors teach classes to their firefighters so state personnel can test the firefighters for various certifications.
Different shifts and stations within the HFD also train on their own schedules at the academy, using mostly the drill tower, a five-story training structure with fire escapes.
“Our drill tower is extremely heavily used right now because it’s really the only working prop we have,” Pickering said.
Capt. Brady Ingram said the new props will be a welcome improvement to HFD’s training facilities.
“With that coming on board, you’ll see a wave of new guys with knowledge that surpasses years of training,” Ingram said.
In years past, the fire department has sent members elsewhere to get the kind of training these facilities will afford, and cost issues usually mean only a few firefighters at a time can attend training, Ingram said.
“The way the times have changed, we’re so much more diversified,” he said. “We don’t just fight fires. We don’t just do rescue calls.”
Hattiesburg’s department also maintains a regional response team, which is part of a statewide system of teams called into play following disasters such as weather hazards, earthquakes or weapon of mass destruction attacks, Webster said, describing the unit as an “all hazards team.”
“Whenever the state deems we’re needed and issue a mission, we can send the team,” he said, noting that the team also includes personnel from other fire departments in the Pine Belt.
Hattiesburg’s team specializes in collapsed building searches – which the academy’s new props will help firefighters train for.