Since 2002 The Commissioner training tower has played an integral role in the lives of firefighters, police and SWAT team members throughout Los Angeles. During those two decades, the steel structure has been used for everything from recruitment events to youth training academies to active shooter drills.
“We have 3,500 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department and almost every one of them has trained at some point on The Commissioner,” says Assistant Chief Steve Hissong with the Training Division of the Los Angeles Fire Department. “For 20 years the structure has held up great. The Los Angeles community has really benefitted from this investment.”
Customized for LA Needs
Standing 40-feet high and 73-feet long, The Commissioner is the largest Fire Facilities standard model available. The training structure has three sections: a four-story training tower, a two-story residential section, and a one-story burn room annex. Over the years the Los Angeles Fire Department has made adjustments to the structure to customize it for training applicable to their geographic area and needs.
“We converted the second floor into a hallway with small rooms,” says Hissong, who has been with the department since 1986. “This resembles a standard residential apartment area. Upstairs we built an attic setting similar to a Victorian single family home in our area. By replicating the housing situations in the Los Angeles district we can better prepare to fight fires.”
Hissong says that the structure is also used for active shooter drills with police and SWAT units. Multi-agency drills, along with regional fire department training, make up a large percentage of training at the tower, which is used primarily right now for tactical training.
Holding Up for 20 Years
Through the years, the number of people training on The Commissioner has varied. As an example, from 2005 to 2008 the structure was used as the Recruit Training Academy with 500 recruits per year using it as their primary Fire Academy.
Prior to COVID restrictions, up to 4,000 people per year used The Commissioner. Along with fire department personnel, this included up to five Youth Academies held each year plus field resources training.
“This tower has held up great to the intense training of the past two decades,” says Hissong. “There have been no issues with rust or deterioration. Because of the number of active drills we conduct the exterior doors probably need to be replaced, but that’s very specific to our type of training.
“We’re also a bit unusual. We don’t use our live burn room. That may be helping preserve the building. Our focus is on scenario based training with multiple agencies, with a focus primarily on tactical training with smoke machines.
“Given how effective The Commissioner has been for the past two decades, we anticipate getting another 20 years of active usage from this training tower.”
Central Location Drives Popularity
For members of the Los Angeles Fire Department, perhaps one of the best aspects of The Commissioner is its centralized location. As part of the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center, the structure is positioned near classrooms, a large gymnasium and offices. There’s even a pylon on display from the World Trade Center in memory of firefighters lost on September 11, 2001.
When the location was used as a Southern California Regional Training Center at one point, there were more than 20,000 people training there at the height of its popularity.
“Since vacant or occupied buildings are harder to facilitate training, having a training tower centrally located in Los Angeles has allowed it to be used for every scenario,” says Hissong. “This tower is more than just a place to practice skills. It has become part of our iconic training center. The Commissioner is an active participant to everything from award ceremonies to seasonal toy drives. It’s part of our community in Los Angeles.”