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Altoona firefighters can now train for live fires in new 4-story facility

"We can create those realistic smoke conditions, realistic heat conditions and things that you just don’t get from reading a book," Deputy Chief Lance Routson said.

ALTOONA, Iowa — For the past few decades the Altoona Fire Department has had little resources and space to train for live fires, but now, after three years of construction, firefighters can better prepare themselves.

That's because the fire department has a new four-story training facility made out of shipping crates that allow firefighters to create and react to different scenarios.

“We can teach them when conditions are tenable and when they become untenable, in other words, when people can survive and when they can’t," said Altoona Deputy Chief of Operations Lance Routson. "We can create those realistic smoke conditions, realistic heat conditions, and things that you just don’t get from reading a book."

The four-story design allows firefighters to learn how to maneuver through a house-like structure, and acclimate themselves better to their surroundings when they get called out to a live fire. 

The department also created couches and dining chairs out of wood, so firefighters can learn to know what they feel like when fire and smoke have blinded them inside.

Routson said a lot of the corpses they find in house fires are close to doors or along hallways near doors, so if firefighters can know what these things feel like, it will help them in the future.

“You gotta be able to execute it in that moment," he said. "The only way we’re going to be able to do it is if we train on it. So, now we can do that. Before we could not.”

Credit: Connor O'Neal
Altoona Deputy Chief of Operations Lance Routson sits outside the new department training facility.

Before this facility, the department would do similar fire training out in the parking lot using traffic cones. Now, Routson and his team can better prepare themselves for live fires.

"We can make sure that we do everything we can on the training ground, so when those instances do occur, we minimize the damage, we minimize the loss of life, we minimize the loss of property and we protect our people,” he explained.

Routson also told Local 5 that other fire departments in central Iowa will be able to use their new training facility, but they won't really light more live fires until later this fall.

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