GFFR conducting high rise training

Great Falls Fire Rescue is conducting high rise training in the downtown area.

This week and next, the department is training in the Washington Court condos in the 900 block of 1st Avenue North.

The building is occupied and training officer Nolan Eggen said it’s the first time he could remember the department being able to use an occupied building.

The high rise training is part of GFFR’s quarterly training on high risk, low frequency incidents.

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Earlier this year, they conducted similar training in the Baatz Building before NeighborWorks Great Falls began their renovation project. Since that building was unoccupied, they used smoke machines to simulate fire conditions.

Nolan said that he typically talks to Assistant Chief for Prevention Mike McIntosh to find an abandoned building, something scheduled for demolition or new construction for a training space that isn’t occupied.

McIntosh happened to be in Washington Court recently and GFFR asked the property manager if they’d be willing to allow training in the building.wp-16948007486568752969992968912118

“They were all for it,” Eggen said.

GFFR conducting training downtown

One building tenant offered to let them practice rescuing her from an upper story apartment so  firefighters could use the ladder truck in a more realistic fashion.

The department is always looking for buildings around town to use rather than the training facility, which gets repetitive and the tower is currently condemned and unusable, officials said.

In their exercise on Sept. 12, Eggen said they were simulating a fire on the fourth floor of the condo building.

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The building has a standpipe, which moves water into the building with connections on the upper floors, reducing the hoses the firefighters have to haul into the building.

During the training, the firefighters discussed the types of alarm systems and fire doors in the Washington Court and other buildings around town.

Eggen said that they typically get information about a building on their way to a call, such as construction type, size, where hydrants and doors are, and whether there’s a knox box, which is a box firefighters can access for a building key.

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The training helps the firefighters hone their skills on a building with multiple stories and multiple residences or offices.

Eggen said when they arrive on scene, they can’t confirm whether everyone is out of the building and have to search the building while also fighting the fire.

“It’s a huge risk profile,” Eggen said. “It’s a tremendous workload. Given our staffing, we have to prioritize where we can do the most good.”

For a structure fire, GFFR sends three engines and a ladder truck, which is every apparatus and crew on shift. Some structure fires require GFFR to call back firefighters and send reserve engines.

With that staffing level, if there’s one structure fire, there aren’t any engines or firefighters to respond to other emergency calls, according to GFFR.