Central Pierce Fire & Rescue opened its newly renovated Station 60 last month, and with it a state-of-the-art training tower that is the only one of its kind in the department.
The tower, located at 17520 22nd Ave E. in Spanaway, will provide indoor fire training to firefighters from its stations in Puyallup, South Hill, Spanaway, Parkland, Midland, Elk Plain and Summit.
The tower could also help other Pierce County fire departments.
“It’s a huge advantage for not only Central Pierce but for surrounding districts,” said Woody Juarez, assistant chief of training. “We can conduct all of our own training where it needs to be. Ultimately, the benefit goes to the citizens.”
At four stories tall, the tower is equipped with two burn rooms resembling a kitchen, bedroom and living room for indoor residential fires. Two more burn rooms are expected to be completed with federal grants.
“You’re going to be able to simulate a real-life fire, but it’ll still have safety precautions in place,” Battalion Chief Dennis Lawson said.
The tower also has props to train for technical rescues, confined space rescues, rope rescues and roof rescues, with both residential pitched and commercial flat roofs.
Inside the tower, a darkened hallway leads all the way to the roof. When the simulated fires are lit, Assistant Chief Guy Overby said everything is pitch black and firefighters often have to feel their way through a room.
“It’s not like you see in the movies,” he said.
Prior to the new tower being built, firefighters had to complete the simulated live fire training either in Olympia or North Bend every three years, costing the department millions over the years in travel, lodging and use of the training facilities. There was an existing training tower at Station 60, but it did not have live-fire props and was only a third of the height. It was little, old and impractical.
In 2013, voters approved a $39.8 million Facilities Bond that included the construction of the training tower in addition to replacing three stations and completing full remodels on two stations. About $1 million of that was for the tower, with an additional $412,435 in grants.
For the past three years, Station 60 was undergoing much-needed renovations. Some of its departments were working out of portables. Overby, whose been with Central Pierce Fire for 27 years and works out of Puyallup, said that a lot of the stations were antiquated.
“We were spending so much money on repairs that after a time it’s better to just replace everything,” he said.
After its renovations, Station 60 grew 6,000 square feet to nearly 20,000 square feet, with new offices and meeting rooms. Carpeted floors were replaced with concrete to prevent the spread of contaminated material brought back from calls.
Instead of dorm-style sleeping rooms, individual sleeping quarters were created so firefighters can get better rest. Only certain rooms are alerted to calls now, preventing the disturbance of other first responders who are resting. And instead of shocking first responders awake with blaring alarms, alarms now gradually increase in volume, which is much better on the heart, said Adam Jackson, assistant chief of health and safety.
“So even if you’re getting only three hours of sleep, it’s going to be a decent three hours,” Jackson said.
Lawson hopes that the improvements will also entice more people to apply to join Central Pierce Fire.
“(Central Pierce Fire) is building for the future. I think this will allow us to bring in a broader range of applicants — people who want to work here,” he said.
Central Pierce Fire & Rescue will show off the new station to the public with an open house in early 2018. The next station expected to be renovated is Station 72 at 3509 27th Street SE in Puyallup.