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Build it and burn it to learn it

Firefighter recruits study how blazes behave on real structures

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At this point in their training, a group of firefighter recruits from across the Denver metro area have learned the basic skills. They’ve studied all about hose work, personal protective gear, forcible entry, etc.

But a training exercise on March 2 when three actual structures were burned to the ground gave them real-life experience on a fire’s behavior in a burning building.

“It shows them how fire behaves in a structure,” said West Metro Fire Rescue Capt. Steve Hildebrandt.

“We want to teach them those skills before they get into a live fire structure.”

About 30 recruits from West Metro Fire Rescue, Castle Rock Fire and Rescue, Littleton Fire Rescue and Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District, plus a few students from the Firefighter One Academy at Red Rocks Community College, participated in the training.

It took place at the West Metro Training Center, 3535 S. Kipling St. in Lakewood.

The recruits are about a month into their training, Hildebrandt said, and they’ve had a couple live-fire training experiences, such as a dumpster fire. They will get about eight to 10 more live fire trainings before they graduate this May, he said.

“It’s great to be able to witness the fire’s behavior that we learn about in the textbooks and in the classroom,” said Brian Willer, a recruit for West Metro Fire Rescue. “To be able to see it in person is eye-opening. We saw how fast fires can move and grow in intensity.”

The exercise included first building three small structures that each replicate different construction types commonly found in the community — modern and legacy construction, and an unfinished basement.

It is an advantage to be able to build the structures because it familiarizes the recruits with what is out there, said Nate Peery, a recruit for Castle Rock Fire and Rescue.

“It better helps us understand the hazards we face to serve the community,” he said. And “we’re here to serve the community.”

The demonstration is not only a learning experience for the recruits, said Ronda Scholting, West Metro Fire Rescue’s public information officer, in a press release.

It “also shows homeowners just how fast fire can move,” she said, “and how important it is to have an escape plan in case of emergency.”

Every live fire training exercise is beneficial because they train the recruits on how to operate safely, said West Metro Fire Rescue’s Lt. Dan Fahrney.

“It’s so they can stay safe,” he said, “and protect the community.”

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