After 25 years and 2,000-plus fires, a training center in Burnsville will be replaced. Groundbreaking is set for Nov. 1.
The temperature soared toward 1,000 degrees in the soot-blackened room where several firefighters aimed their hoses at blazing wood pallets in a Burnsville building that has seen a lot of fires.
Apple Valley Fire Chief Nealon Thompson watched from outside a door as his helmeted crew, with masks and airpacks, extinguished the blaze one evening last week. It was the firefighter's annual live training exercise.
The jointly operated building is scorched about 85 times a year by 270 firefighters from Apple Valley, Burnsville, Lakeville, Eagan and other city departments that rent the center, Thompson said. After 25 years and more than 2,000 fires, the fire chiefs and officials of the four cities have agreed it's time for an upgrade.
The four large cities have shared the cost and use of the center, including a three-story training tower without burn rooms, since it was built in 1987, said Burnsville Chief B.J. Jungmann. The facility sits on a wooded hill on River Ridge Boulevard, just south of Cliff Road near the Minnesota River bottoms and east of Interstate 35W.
The burn building has exceeded its expected 20-year lifespan and is showing its age, Thompson said. Telltale cracks crawl around the patched, exterior concrete block walls and one rusted steel window frame has burned away. Inside the three-room building, the floor, ceiling and walls are eroding from heat and water.
The four city councils have each approved paying $500,000 toward a $2 million center to replace the existing two buildings, Thompson said. Designs are being drawn for a three-story, 5,200-square-foot building with staircases, a commercial side, an attic, a simulated basement and many rooms with burners to optimize training scenarios, he said.
The current 1,200-square-foot fire building has only one burn room, which firefighters quickly master.
"It's not like the buildings we fight fires in," Thompson said. "We need to train in the buildings we go to -- multi-floor apartments, town homes and big single-family homes."
The new building will be equipped so firefighters can cut holes in the roof and force entry through doors, Jungmann said. "It will be a lot more realistic," he said.
Firefighters are required to have live fire training at least once a year by the National Fire Protection Association, which sets training standards, Lakeville Chief Mike Meyer said. He noted the old fire building was repaired last year to ensure it is safe for a few years. He said few old houses are offered anymore for departments to practice live burns, and such buildings often require permits or expensive asbestos removal.
Work on a sixth facility is underway in Maplewood for east metro fire and police training. The center, costing more than $4.3 million, will be shared by 25 fire departments in Ramsey and Washington counties. It will include classrooms, a driving track, a seven-story tower and a training pond.
"These types of facilities are as close to the real thing as you can get," State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl said. "We'd rather train under a controlled situation than just wing it when you get to the fire."
Groundbreaking is set for Nov. 1 for the new Burnsville center, which is to open next June and is forecast to last 31 years, Eagan Chief Mike Scott said. He said the new facility will do a much better job of replicating fires in businesses, motels and homes served by firefighters.
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283