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South Bend fire training center is set to expand

December 20, 2018

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — On Thanksgiving night in 2016, South Bend Fire Department Capt. Tony Marvel fell through some stairs to the basement while fighting a house fire in the 300 block of North Studebaker Street on the city’s near northwest side.

He badly injured his ankle and knew he would need help, and quickly, to escape. But Marvel didn’t panic. He called for help and his fellow firefighters found him and carried him out.

Afterward, Marvel said he realized that training he had received at the department’s Luther J. Taylor Sr. Fire Training Center had helped him.

“It was obviously a very stressful situation but I was very calm and composed and I acted on my instinct and training,” Marvel said. “I called for my mayday, practiced my self-rescue techniques, and was able to exit the structure without any further harm.”

This spring will mark five years since the $5.5 million training center, the only of its kind in Indiana north of Indianapolis, opened at Sample and High streets. The city’s Board of Public Works recently awarded a contractor’s $650,000 bid to add 3,800 square feet of classroom space to the center.

“We’ve ended up with so many trainings, state classes, the recruit academy, mutual aid training with other departments in the area, that we’ve run out of room there to provide all that,” said Fire Chief Steve Cox. “It’s a good problem to have.”

The center opened in early 2014, two years after Mayor Pete Buttigieg promoted Cox to chief. Since then, firefighter training has increased while injuries and property damage from fires have declined.

There were 227 structure fires in 2014, 213 in 2015, 219 in 2016 and 221 last year, according to the department’s annual statistics.

Property damage from fires declined from nearly $3.1 million in 2014 to about $1.4 million last year, a 55 percent drop.

In 2014 there were 14 fire-related injuries and four deaths. Last year there were seven injuries and no deaths.

Total training hours for the department grew from 54,470 in 2014 to 75,556 last year, a 39 percent increase.

In yet another metric, the department’s Insurance Service Office rating, a factor that insurers use in setting fire insurance premiums, especially for businesses, improved from three to two following a 2016 audit. Those ratings can range from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best.

Cox said he attributes the positive statistics to a range of factors, including the department’s push in recent years to do more community education on prevention efforts, and a growing smoke detector distribution program. But he said the increased training has “played a tremendous role.”

“Before, we really had nowhere to train and we were begging, borrowing and stealing,” Cox said, recalling how the city’s Code Enforcement department used to allow training in condemned homes before they were demolished, posing a risk to firefighters. “Training was somewhat sporadic. We’ve created a regimented training schedule as a daily part of every firefighter’s work day.”

As a result, Cox said, the center has helped “create a change in culture. I’d like to think our training has become more professional and competent.”

For example, Cox said firefighters are allowed to test new ideas on strategies and techniques in the center. Marvel said firefighters feel fortunate to have it.

“After that time I fell through the basement, I definitely realized that our trainings were paramount to our survival and being able to make decisions,” said Marvel, a 12-year department veteran. “When you can’t think straight, you have to rely on your instinct and muscle memory, and that only happens when you train all the time.”

Marvel said he doesn’t regard daily training as tedious.

“It’s necessary,” he said. “Our job is the unknown, it’s unpredictable. Our job is to go home to our families the next day, and save and protect the public when they need us. We can’t do our jobs if we’re not prepared.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune

https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/publicsafety/south-bend-fire-training-center-is-set-to-expand/article_bdc0915a-ab52-538e-8edb-bb47bd7f9894.html

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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