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Burn and Learn training gives firefighters realistic scenarios

POCATELLO, Idaho - Angie Hernandez stood in the back lot of Bish's R.V. and watched as the building that had been in her family for decades, went up in flames.

But she was happy that she could see that once-vacant structure being used to help out local firefighters in one of their most realistic training exercises held roughly twice each year.

"It makes me feel great because every time I drove by, I would think, 'I wish someone would rent that building!'" Hernandez said.

The thing is, these local Pocatello and Chubbuck firefighters do not have the funds to purchase an actual training facility, so they rely on people throughout the community to donate old buildings they can burn down.

Pocatello Fire Chief David Gates said this could be a little more dangerous than training in a more controlled facility.

"This is real and has all of the dangers of a true fire, with the exception that we could be a little more strategic and have a little more planning," Gates said. "But they can still go awry just like a real fire, and there is no emergency off-switch that allows us to shut down the system if things go bad."

But Gates said it has been a tough budget year for all of the city's departments and appreciates the Pocatello City Council being able to work with the fire department to sustain the resources it currently has.

During Thursday morning's city council study session budget meeting, the city's chief financial officer David Swindell mentioned the city will be working with a lower budget in the 2015 fiscal year since a lot of revenue was lost when utility bills were decreased in December and various taxes are now going to the state instead the city as they once did.

The city council members decided to not cut any money from any particular department after much deliberation. 

So, at least for now, that's great news for the city's departments, including the fire department who will be able to sustain this type of training for their firefighters each year.

Pocatello firefighter Jordan Peterson has only been with the department for a few weeks and has had to go on a call without the training.

He said the training has helped him tremendously.

"It's very helpful, since I learned from the first fire to just slow down and go through the steps they go through with you here in training," Peterson said. "Having an environment which is more controlled where I can focus on those steps is really helpful."

Peterson also mentioned how those real flames also help enforce training techniques.

"It's a real fire. Regardless of whether it's training or not, the room is still on fire and the flames are still going over your head,"Peterson added.

After the building is completely burned to the ground on Friday, the final day of the two-day training, Hernandez said Bish's R.V. plans to build a new service center in its place.

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