About an hour west of downtown Chicago, in Burlington, Ill., Elgin Community College has a $20 million public safety training facility on 120 acres. Opened in 2016, the state-of-the-art campus includes The Commissioner training tower from Fire Facilities. The college’s dedicated fire academic program was recently awarded the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) status by the National Fire Academy.
“Well over 500 students have trained on The Commissioner in the past five years,” says Chief John P. Fahy, director of academic programming and public safety training at Elgin Community College. “However, when you add in all the local agencies that train at our Center for Emergency Services, by the end of 2022, we’re probably talking about 3,000 people.
“Our Fire Academy students use The Commissioner to accomplish many of the Illinois State Fire Marshal requirements for certification from forcible entry, search and rescue, hose deployment, victim removal, ladder placement and live fire situations.”
Multi-Functional Training Facility
According to Fahy, other programs also use the four-story tall training tower. The EMT program practices using stair chairs in the exterior staircases to transport people to waiting ambulances. Police officers employ the tower for bomb squad training, using robots to transverse the interior of the building. There’s also drone training that searches for victims on the roof and balconies, plus looking in open doors and windows.
“The versatility of The Commissioner makes it ideal for multiple training scenarios,” says Fahy. “From burn rooms to balconies to reconfigurable spaces, The Commissioner has stood up really well to intense training exercises.”
The largest standard fire tower manufactured by Fire Facilities, The Commissioner spans 73-feet long and stands 40-feet tall. There are three sections to the structure: a training tower with a roof hatch and parapet roof guard with chained opening, a two-story residential section with burn room on the second floor, and a one-story burn room annex. A cantilevered balcony, inset balcony and fire escape are part of the structure of the American-made steel structure.
Training and Leadership at ECC
A retired fire chief from the Elgin Fire Department, Fahy brings 30 years of on-the-job training to his position at Elgin Community College. The experiences he transferred with him to the college allow Fahy to successfully hire personnel and develop curriculum for the program. He also schedules and conducts training for firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and police officers.
A State of Illinois Certified Fire Assessor, Fahy actively serves as a member of the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association. While busy working with students, he also juggles requests for use of the training center by public safety personnel.
“I’d estimate that we now have a close to 10-to-1 ratio of public safety users of The Commissioner to students,” says Fahy. “We’re now a known entity in northern Illinois public safety training and requests for use of the tower have grown each year since we opened.
“Fire agencies use The Commissioner to get their annual live burn requirement completed. The fire chiefs using this tower to train their members has resulted in a dramatic increase in students at Elgin Community College. Members of the training teams are coming back to the college to get their FESHE-recognized Associate Degree in Fire Science.”
Making a Difference
Fahy believes having The Commissioner in place at the Burlington campus, and available to people outside the college community, has been a game changer.
“It’s been a great partnership,” says Fahy. “We’re able to help other fire departments use The Commissioner for their annual live fire training. Many of those firefighters have said afterwards that they really appreciate the realistic capabilities of our tower for their training needs.
As the Burlington campus moves into its sixth year, managing and running the program continues to challenge Fahy.
“This is a dream job,” says Fahy. “I’m advising the college president and dean on the wants and needs of the public safety community. In addition, I’m working with the college team on the classes, curriculum and staffing of the Emergency Services programs at Elgin Community College. These efforts will positively impact the public safety community for decades into the future.”