Firefighters from 15 departments throughout west-central Wisconsin agreed on the toughest part of their 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, firefighters set a tall ladder reaching three stories up, then climbed it while carrying another ladder on their backs.
The idea was to hook that ladder over the crown of the roof, one of several challenges firefighters practiced on Saturday, Oct. 7 as they prepared for the test.
Last week (Oct. 8-14) was Fire Prevention Week, and firefighters are urging people to educate themselves about what they can do to prevent or react to fires. 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 local fire departments and their training programs.
This year CVTC has made two major additions to its facilities and equipment. The testing preparation stations were set up around a multi-faceted three-story splash tower. Also, 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 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.”
The setup allows students to practice ladder evacuations in a non-emergency setting “so we can take the procedures step by step,” said Chad Peterson, a 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.
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 said the facility was mostly designed by CVTC faculty and staff, with people from different disciplines contributing ideas for various 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 replaces an 18-year-old truck that had already undergone 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.”
The truck has side impact roll-over protections that help prevent injuries in case of an accident. Its major feature 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.”
During the firefighter testing practice session, the new truck was used to pump for scenarios inside a mobile fire trailer and for setting up water supply at a fire. McHenry stressed how such new equipment and facilities benefit not only students entering the CVTC FireMedic program but fire safety efforts 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.”