Since 1995 thousands of volunteer and paid firefighters in Kearney, Nebraska have relied on The Captain structure for intense training. Throughout the 27 year journey, Fire Inspector Terry Eirich has seen the value the all-steel tower for both new and veteran firefighters.
“The rate of return on this investment has been a great payoff for the citizens of Kearney and the surrounding area,” says Fire Inspector Eirich of the Kearney Fire Department. “We see this continuing far into the future.
“The Captain tower is used for our monthly squad training, rescue, and HAZMAT training. It’s also used for annual Firefighter I and II classes and for Certification Testing. The tower gets used by outside agencies such as police, SWAT, K-9, State Fire Marshal’s Training Division and Special Teams. Mutual Aid fire departments and fire departments from around our state use the training tower and complex on a regular basis. We maximize its use so it really pays for itself.”
The Captain at Work
The Captain is a four-story fire department training building with a large footprint for more training space. The training building spans 25 feet in length by 22 feet in width, by 40 feet in height. The training building’s burn room annex features two exits, while the tower offers interior stairs, a fixed ladder, and a roof-mounted chop-out curb.
The Kearney team uses the tower and interior stairway to the roof for advancing hose training up and down stairs, hooking up to a standpipe and advancing hose, along with rope rescue training by repelling from the roof and rescues from windows. A set of power poles has been installed for practical training, and ladder training is employed for windows on all levels.
“Realistic burn room training is perhaps the most important to us,” says Eirich. “Fire Facilities has been great to work with over the past 27 years. They’ve assisted us with adding any products we need.
“We’ve installed a propane-fueled live fire simulator in the burn room annex with a control room on the west side of the tower. This gives us more management of our fires than we had with just the Class A burn rooms.
“We also installed a Dry Standpipe System on our interior stairway for training on advanced hose from a standpipe system. After that we installed lights on all four corners of the tower roof for safer night training. We also put in a Fire Facilities forcible entry door for more realistic entry training.”
Most significantly, the fire department has purchased and will soon install moveable walls and doors from Fire Facilities. This allows the Kearney team to create separate spaces on each level to change up the configurations to keep training fresh for both full time firefighters and volunteer members.
Investment for the Future
With 35 years experience with the Kearney Volunteer Fire Department, Eirich has gained tremendous experience in his roles as Fire Inspector, fire and rescue instructor and volunteer firefighter. He remembers when the City of Kearney originally decided to invest in The Captain back in 1995.
“The Captain tower was the most affordable of all the towers we looked at,” says Eirich.
“It fit our training needs the best and we knew we could grow with it. The City of Kearney sold bonds to finance the purchase of the tower and we were on our way!”
Over time the tower has held up very well to the rigorous training. The all-steel unit even stood up to a tornado in 2008.
“The tornado came right through our training complex,” says Eirich. “We had cargo containers scattered all over the place. A trailer house was flipped upside down. However, The Captain came out of the storm with hardly a scratch on it.”
Moving Toward the Future
Just like at fire departments across the country, the need for training is constant in Kearney. There are 16 full-time and 11 part-time paid staff. Add to that 62 trained and dedicated volunteers plus 17 volunteers in leadership positions. The entire team trains regularly at the training complex.
Along with the Fire Facilities tower, the city has a grain bin simulator, flash-over simulator, rehab shelter and natural gas & propane fuel props. The training complex also features ventilation roof training, classroom, extrication, confined space training, HAZMAT training, and SCBA competence training.
“We are always looking for ways to enhance the training for our firefighters,” says Eirich. “Making changes to The Captain works well for us. Our City and Suburban Fire Protection District both want our volunteer and full-time firefighters to have the most up-to-date training complex that is affordable for the citizens of Kearney and the surrounding area.”