New eco-friendly fire training site planned for Cape Town

WEST YARMOUTH — Months after workers tore down the burned-out buildings at Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy in Hyannis due to widespread PFAS contamination, fire officials are welcoming a new regional fire training building — a environmentally safe place where firefighters can practice life-and-death skills without traveling out of Cape Town.

The building, located in a grassy field behind Yarmouth Fire Station 3 on Buck Island Road and resembling a residential home where firefighters could be called to, will be powered by propane lines that can be turned on and off at distance. A bedroom in the two-and-a-half-story metal-clad building, for example, might have a metal bed frame that appears to be on fire when the fuel is lit.

Firefighters likened the technology to a gas grill.

“Because we’re watching what they’re doing, we can turn off the gas when we think enough water has been applied,” said Sandwich Fire Chief John Burke, who is also chairman of the Barnstable County Fire. Chiefs Association.

Firefighters will use water from the fire trucks involved in the drills to practice putting out different types of flames under different conditions inside the building. Firefighters will also be able to train to respond to other hazards, including structural collapse, officials said.

Most importantly, no aqueous film-forming foam – the cause of costly PFAS contamination at fire training sites, airports and military installations and in Cape Town and Island and country water supplies – will be used. . The PFAS (or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals used in foam have been linked to testicular, kidney and other cancers, liver damage, high cholesterol, reduced vaccine effectiveness and a host of other diseases.

“There will be no use of foam,” Burke said.

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DEP status:Chemical contamination of PFAS at Hyannis Airport has not been sufficiently studied

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Since the only material that will be burned is propane, there will be no real smoke in the building. Instead, the structure will be filled with artificial smoke, which officials say poses no risk to firefighters, but simulates intense indoor conditions during real fires.

“It’s that artificial, safe smoke with a clean-burning propane fire, and that’s how this product will work efficiently and effectively to train firefighters in an environmentally responsible way,” said Steve Coan, a county consultant on the project who served for decades as Massachusetts Fire Marshal and Chief of the State Fire Department.

Water used in the drills – designed to encourage water conservation, as firefighters are sometimes limited to the water available in their trucks – will flow into a collection system.

“The water runoff from this is pure water that didn’t come into contact with anything that would contaminate this water during firefighting,” Coan said.

In addition to protecting the environment, officials said the new building will provide a safer training ground for firefighters than traditional training buildings, where they put out real flames by burning real materials that produce real smoke.

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The burnt-out building and other structures at the closed Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy were demolished in September last year.

“When we used to burn the pallets and stuff, our structural equipment was getting contaminants because you were burning real things,” Burke said. “This technology gives us excellent control measures so that we can ensure that we give good security training to our staff.

Why is it necessary?

Before Barnstable County Fire Training Academy began its phased closure in 2019 due to PFAS contamination on property and in the area’s drinking water, Yarmouth Fire Chief Philip Simonean said that his teams would train there twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall.

“We were the largest user of the facility in Barnstable County,” Simonean said.

It was important to Simonean to spend his firefighters’ time in burnt out buildings, as live-fire training became increasingly vital in the evolving profession.

Across Cape Town, thanks in part to the widespread adoption of safety measures like smoke detectors, firefighters are getting fewer calls for fires and more calls for medical incidents, Simonean said. This means firefighters are constantly honing their EMT and paramedic skills, but rarely work in dangerous fire conditions.

“There are some members who, if they’re off duty, won’t see a fire for six months to a year, potentially,” Simonean said. “It makes us a bit vulnerable. It’s a safety issue, in my opinion. We need a facility to practice, and this will allow us to have this right in our backyard.

It’s not just Yarmouth that would benefit from a local fire training building, Coan said.

“It will serve as a regional asset,” he said.

According to Coan and Burke, who surveyed all the Cape and Islands departments, almost all local chiefs expressed the need for a nearby fire training building.

The state’s fire academies are all out of Cape Town and, according to local fire officials, often have months-long waiting lists.

In Massachusetts, firefighters are hired by departments before they are trained. Coan said if new recruits are waiting for a spot at a remote state academy, they’re less able to help with non-firefighting tasks on a stage — like running hoses — without the type of training a building like the one proposed for Yarmouth would provide.

For veteran firefighters, the building provides a place to practice existing skills and learn new firefighting techniques, he said.

A water filtration site, used to remove PFAS chemicals from the town of Barnstable's drinking water, located on Mary Dunn Road near the closed Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy in March 2021. A new regional training site that officials say is environmentally safe is planned for West Yarmouth.

The Cape Town Fire Department has access to mobile fire training “props” purchased by the county, including a trailer with two training rooms that can be transported from department to department. But fire officials said the props did not provide the level of firefighting difficulty their staff needed to be fully prepared for a real, high-risk fire.

Authorities are now considering turning the mobile trailer into a maritime fire training tool.

Who will manage the building?

Officials described the fire training building as a “turnkey” operation that will allow each Cape Town fire service to hold its own drills.

At least one member of each department will be trained to operate building controls using grants from the Southeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council, which will allow departments to schedule time in the facility and then to use it without needing to coordinate with another organization.

“It’s kind of like an Airbnb,” Burke said.

The building is primarily intended for use by Cape Town and Islands departments, but departments outside the Cape will be permitted to use the facility if they schedule training time and ensure a firefighter trained in the using building controls can direct the session.

How is this paid?

The county is paying for the Yarmouth Fire Training Building using a $636,000 grant in 2018 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a matching $63,000 provided by the county of barnstable.

The cost of the building is $469,800, but the county does not yet have an estimate of total construction costs, which will be known after bids return, according to County Administrator Beth Albert.

To pay for the ongoing costs of maintaining and operating the building, fire departments intending to use the facility will pay an initial assessment fee of $500 and then a use to be determined for training.

“We’re looking at somewhere between $500 and $1,000 for usage fees, which I don’t mean is a drop in the bucket, but it’s very cost effective to pay that usage fee for eight hours of use and multiple upgrades,” Burke said.

That money will be placed in an account that will be managed by the Yarmouth Fire and Finance Departments, according to city administrator Robert Writenour. Albert said the county is currently finalizing a memorandum of understanding with Yarmouth that would put the arrangement in writing.

“The city needs to maintain the facility and we’re going to do a full cost analysis and make sure there are no additional costs on an ongoing basis,” Writenour said. “It was a key point for the Board of Selectmen, that there are no additional costs for the town of Yarmouth, that it is going to be self-sufficient.”

Yarmouth has already completed a site plan review for the project, however, no applications related to permission have yet been received, according to the city’s building department.

Coan said the goal is to erect the building, parts of which have already arrived in Yarmouth, in the spring.

Contact Jeannette Hinkle at [email protected]

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