Firefighters' facility offers real scenarios

Richmond County firefighters used to burn old buildings to train recruits. Now, they just set the same one on fire again and again.


Completed in August, the department's $1.4 million fire training building stands just off Deans Bridge Road. With flaming gas stoves and hidden crawl spaces, it sometimes resembles a funhouse, albeit a dangerous one.

"We now have something we can play with and actually burn," Lt. Marcus Dukes said.

As a fire control instructor, Lt. Dukes crafts the training schedule for the almost 300 firefighters in the department. So far, just one crew has been trained in the building.

"We're trying to get one crew trained so they can teach the rest of the people," Fire Chief Howard Willis said.

In the past, the department would allow firefighters to burn condemned buildings for training. They would also travel to Forsyth, Ga., to practice at a fire training facility.

The Augusta building contains an empty, five-story elevator shaft that lets firefighters practice their repelling skills, and a 3-foot-high crawl space, complete with rafters that trainees must balance on, tests their ability to work as a team in the tight confines of an attic. In one of several rooms designed to mimic a typical home, instructors can quickly create a stove fire, sending flames rolling up the walls in what's called a "flashover."

One room is reserved for small paper and trash fires. The rest of the flames are controlled by using natural gas. With the help of several smoke machines and temperatures that can reach 700 degrees, trainees are able to get an experience that closely matches what they could see on the job.

"Not only does it build confidence and skills, it lets them practice a working team relationship," Chief Willis said. "Everybody has a role to play."

The new facility makes it easier for instructors to create different scenarios and grade the firefighters based on their reactions, something Chief Willis said will hopefully translate into better firefighters.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or