Fla. firefighters try out new mobile training tower

The $216,000 corrugated steel tower was 95 percent funded by a FEMA grant

By Margie Kacoha
The Palm Beach Daily News

PALM BEACH, Fla. — A 2-story Mobile Training Tower is standing watch over the north lot at Phipps Ocean Park this week as crews take turns practicing critical emergency drills near the South Fire Station.

The $216,000 corrugated steel tower, manufactured by Riverside Metal Craft in Hawkinsville, Ga., arrived about two weeks ago. It was 95 percent funded by a FEMA grant with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Assistance to the Firefighters Grant Program. The remainder was donated by the Palm Beach Gardens-based Walter and Adi Blum Foundation.

Roger Lane, division chief of training and safety, said the Fire- Rescue Department has been able to reduce its 2012 training budget by about $20,000 with the addition of the tower, bringing the total down to about $63,320.

The tower reduces the need to turn to other municipalities or training centers for certain types of hands-on experience. It may also be used to trade training opportunities with other municipalities and training facilities. The long-term plan is to make it available, at a cost, to other groups.

"That's our goal — to bring in some revenue," Lane said.

Boca Raton, for example, charges $9,000 for a three-day session with its fire trailer, which it brings to Palm Beach and other sites for training.

Palm Beach Fire-Rescue has to pay $5,000 for a week's worth of training set-ups and equipment use at the county training facility located at Pike Road, just past Florida's Turnpike near Southern Boulevard.

When not in use, the town's new Mobile Training Tower is stored in a horizontal position and can be moved about on a customized trailer.

It can be used for multiple types of training, including low- and high-rise fire fighting, search-and-rescue operations in a smoke- filled environment, ladder work, roof rescues and repelling, according to training material prepared by the department.

The stark interior has hose hookups, an imposing stairway, a 1,500 gallon water tank, a sprinkler system, lighting and a vertical series of windows.

One of Tuesday afternoon's exercises was to find and retrieve a rescue dummy from a smoky environment created inside the tower. They saved the "victim" by pulling the dummy out through one of the windows.

According to Fire-Rescue spokesman James Weber, training officers can tailor its use in response to assessed needs within the department.

"Each crew has its strengths and weaknesses," he said. "It's a very versatile prop.

"It's the Swiss Army knife of props," he said.

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