In the small town of about 2,500 people, the donations and pledges that have poured in were raised out of “appreciation for what we do and wanting our volunteers to be safe and well trained,” according to Sarah Ewald, Executive Director of the non-profit foundation. As a result of hundreds of one-on-one meetings and an emotional end-of-year appeal, Red Lodge Fire Rescue has almost reached the finish line.
“We have more than 100 volunteers within all of our divisions,” says Ewald. “Close to 100 percent of them made personal donations to this capital campaign. They have been our biggest and best voice. We have an incredibly generous community here in the Red Lodge, MT area. When this training structure opens it will be fully and privately funded without any taxpayer monies.”
The idea for a combined training facility for Fire, EMS and Search and Rescue has been a dream in Red Lodge for about 20 years. Unfortunately, various plans and locations failed to gain traction. However, several years ago the focus narrowed and a strategy came together.
Rather than continue with a “hit and miss” type of training at the station, in unoccupied structures locally, and bringing in the state burn trailer, Red Lodge Fire Rescue will now be able to focus much of their training at one site and one structure: The Assistant Fire Chief from Fire Facilities.
“The size and layout of The Assistant Fire Chief offers many of the training options we’re looking for with our three divisions,” says Todd Daily, Red Lodge volunteer firefighter since 2011. “It’s an all-steel structure with a four-story training tower, residential section and burn room annex. We also added in a great number of options to customize the structure for our specific training needs.
“Moveable walls will allow us to simulate interior fire attacks. We can change the layout frequently to develop strategic thinking for our firefighters. The aligned inline floor hatches can be used for confined space rescue simulation, with the ability to do a tripod rappel through the hatches. The chop out props on the lower pitched roof allow us to train on a replaceable, reusable prop that is similar to local roof pitches at a reasonable height. Finally, having the forcible entry door is something we’ve never had before, so that brings a new element to our training.”
Working with Fire Facilities
According to Daily, having a dedicated place to train will be the most rewarding part of having the new training tower. His background in general contracting allowed him to serve as a construction consultant on the project during the past several years.
“Fire Facilities has been patient and responsive as we’ve worked through our list of needs,” says Daily. “During the planning process we’ve had multiple changes. Each time the changes were made by the Fire Facilities team in a timely manner. We’ve felt this has been a team effort all along.”
Training to Benefit Everyone
When the Assistant Fire Chief opens this year, it will be home to training for more than 100 volunteers plus seven full-time team members. Their jurisdiction covers the towns of Red Lodge, Bearcreek, and Luther and extends south to the Wyoming border. In addition, their coverage area includes the Beartooth and Pryor Mountains, high deserts, rolling prairie, watersheds, wilderness areas and national forest lands, plus the Beartooth Highway, a gateway to Yellowstone National Park.
“Once opened, the training center will be available to all emergency services partners in our area,” says Amy Hyfield, volunteer coordinator and public information officer with Red Lodge Fire Rescue. “We want this to be a regional asset for everyone.”
Reflecting on the future of training with The Assistant Fire Chief, Hyfield echoes Daily’s enthusiasm for simulated live-fire training in changeable settings.
“Being able to fight fire in an attic space and with a chimney prop is definitely something we can’t recreate,” says Hyfield. “The same with roof pitches, ventilation opportunities and laddering options. Additionally, it’s exciting to think about the ability to generate smoke throughout the building for training. And there are many rappelling options that will be key for our search and rescue members.”
Hyfield has been an EMT with Red Lodge since 2018, a firefighter since 2013 and began as a SAR volunteer in 2011. “It’s true what Sarah says about our community,” says Hyfield. “They respect our work and they believe in all of us. Fire Chief Tom Kuntz gains strong admiration and respect both internally and in the community. This is a small community with big hearts. When we cut the ribbon in May, we’ll all be there celebrating together.”