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New training center helps firefighters prepare
Firefighter Charlie McClure climbs up a ladder to the top of the five-story burn building Saturday in Jefferson. Firefighters used the burn building for the first time this weekend after its completion in the fall of 2009. - photo by Claire Miller

JEFFERSON — In his 21-year firefighting career, nothing has deterred Capt. Matt Lindquist from helping to keep his community safe.

Even when he was severely burned in a fire several years ago, Lindquist wasn’t content to quit something he was passionate about.

“The nurse said to me, ‘What are you going to do now?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m going to fight fires,’ ” he said. “They were healing me so I could go back to work. I’m scarred for life, but I still do it.”

When firefighters find themselves in a life-threatening situation like Lindquist did, the training they’ve received becomes vastly important to getting out of a building alive.

“When you get trapped, that’s when your training kicks in,” he explained.

And Jackson County’s new fire training building will help local firefighters get that vital training.

The facility, which has been in the works for about 12 years and was built using special purpose local option sales tax funds, has a fire station with classrooms and a five-story burn building with several rooms, staircases, windows, indoor sprinkler systems and other features that can handle a number of different practice scenarios.

“It’s state of the art,” said Lindquist, a Jefferson resident and firefighter with the city of Atlanta. “They have a fixed structure where they can practice different situations. It meets every facet of qualifications firefighters need to be out in the field.”

Saturday morning, firefighters from several of Jackson County’s departments, most of which are staffed by volunteer firefighters, were the first to use the burn building since its completion in the fall of 2009.

The fire station’s classrooms have been used already for some training, but the departments at the facility this weekend were dressed in their gear practicing how to carry people from a second story window down a ladder to safety, the proper technique for opening a section of the roof over the base of a fire and other important information.

“We’re teaching them all the proper techniques. Believe it or not, there’s even a proper technique for putting water on a fire,” said Capt. Darrell Chaisson Jr. of the city of Jefferson’s fire department.

Before the fire training facility was completed, local volunteer firefighters would have to take time off from their regular jobs to travel to the Georgia Fire Academy in Forsyth County for training.

The burn building is surrounded on all sides by concrete, which serves dual purposes: extra safety for a building that will be set on fire often, and open space for firefighters to practice driving the engines.

“We’re always looking for a place to do driver training, so we poured all this extra concrete and we can set up cones and practice here,” Chaisson said.

In Jackson County, adjoining fire departments often respond to fires together as part of the county’s mutual aid agreement. In using the burn building and adjacent fire station for classes and controlled burns, firefighters from different departments can meet and learn how to work with each other before setting foot at the scene.

“We typically respond to fires with adjoining departments on a call, and having everyone here allows us to mesh with other departments,” Chaisson said.

Though the departments didn’t set anything on fire in their training sessions this weekend, they’ll be back April 8 when the state conducts a structural fire control class on the property.

Commissioner Tom Crow, who is a retired firefighter, also came out Saturday to see the building and the training classes going on.

“We started pushing for this in ’98. It’s something that’s been needed for a long time, with all the additional training the state is requiring now,” he said.

The county used to use old buildings in different parts of the county to practice setting fires and putting them out. But state agencies have set strict regulations on where and how fires can be set.

“It’s becoming next to impossible to burn the houses based on (Environmental Protection Division) and (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations,” he explained. “This will allow endless training and practice.”

And in the coming months, the county may start leasing the building to departments in surrounding counties to use, Chaisson said. But for now, Jackson County fire departments will get full use of the facility.

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