Firefighter training area under construction $3.8 million pays for operating expenses, instruction at HazMat Alley

October 26, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

In Carroll County, $25 won't buy dinner, popcorn and a movie for a family, but it does afford a year's worth of emergency fire and rescue service.

County commissioners budget $3.8 million annually to the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association, which amounts to about $25 for each of Carroll's 147,000 residents. The association represents 14 companies and more than 1,100 volunteers.

Fire officials said it is money well-spent -- used for operating expenses, paid personnel and equipment. Emergency workers responded to nearly 20,000 calls last year -- a figure that grows annually as the population climbs.

Money is also spent on training. The latest training tool -- HazMat Alley -- began construction this month at Carroll County Fire Training Center in Westminster.

A replicated street scene with props -- such as tankers -- will help emergency crews learn to handle hazardous spills, said Leon Fleming, co-chairman of the training center. The $100,000 project should be completed within three weeks.

"It'll teach [emergency workers] how to handle hazardous materials in a safe area away from the public," he said. "It's a training prop. It gives them a little more leeway in learning how to handle hazardous materials."

Serious hazardous materials spills and disasters such as the natural gas explosion at Autumn Ridge in 1995 or the tornado that struck near Gamber in 1996 are rare in Carroll.

"The key is training and being prepared for anything," said Dean Leister, on the association's Fire Training Management Committee for about 10 years.

At HazMat Alley, emergency workers will conduct training with fire extinguishers, auto fire and extrication, and fuel tanker fire suppression, officials said.

"No toxic or hazardous chemicals will be used, so there is no environmental danger to the community," Leister said. "Dyed water, for example, can simulate a spill and HazMat crews can practice preventing its draining into the sewer system, or learn how to clean it up."

The county's 14-acre training complex lies in the shadow of the Prestige Cable television tower off Washington Road, between Carroll County Career and Technology Center to the north and Robert Moton Elementary School to the south.

More than 62,000 hours of classroom and practical field drills were conducted at the center in 1995, Leister said. Police and fire agencies from Baltimore and Howard counties, the Civil Air Patrol and Laurel emergency workers use the center in addition to Carroll County agencies.

A former garage and three-story barn and silo offer no hint that inside, volunteers can enter a training maze so dark their hands can't be seen in front of their faces.

"There are blind alleys and two levels in which you can become disoriented and lose your way," Leister said. "It's great training for finding someone in a house filled with thick, black smoke."

A sprinkler lab permits practice in capping off flowing sprinkler heads while firefighters are dressed in full gear. A three-story facade with windows provides ladder training, and a storm drain system allows underground rescue practice.

Training can be provided in any kind of weather because the facilities are indoors.

Nearby, a steel-gray concrete structure is scarred with black soot. Appropriately, it is the Burn Building, where straw and wood are set ablaze so trainees can practice pumping thousands of gallons of water on a "live" fire.

"By 2000, we hope to have the Burn Building equipped with liquid propane gas," Leister said. "It's safer and cleaner for the environment.

Behind the Burn Building is the Tower, where tactical police and emergency rescuers practice rappelling.

The Tower also can be filled with "safe" smoke, Leister said, so volunteers can don gas masks and experience a smoke-filled room.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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