By Emily Crowe
CMI staff writer
For most of his 38 years as a Clovis firefighter, Chief Ray Westerman has been gradually working toward one goal — creating a place to train staff under live fire.
Westerman’s dream is gradually taking real shape next to Fire Station Five on Brady Avenue. The steel framing beams and concrete pad are the beginnings of a live burn building expected to be ready for training exercises by October.
The state-of-the-art facility is being paid for through New Mexico Fire Protection Fund grants and has been in the works since 2005. Westerman said phase one of the project was completed in 2006, phase two in 2008 and the final phase — the live burn building — should be complete by August.
“The first phase was a level of infrastructure,” he explained. “We built perimeter fencing, paving, curb and gutter and hydrant installation, and got a basic layout taken care of.”
Phase two included the construction of a four-story cold training tower that allows firefighters to train in a number of situations, but does not allow for live burns.
“The next major phase of this is a burn building,” Westerman said. “We wanted to provide a bigger structure for live burns.”
Westerman said the training facility will benefit rookie firefighters who don’t usually have the opportunity to train in a live fire before going out into the field.
“The more controlled, safe burns that we can do, the better trained our guys are and the safer we are when it comes to the real thing,” explained Lt. Jake Whitaker, who has been with the department since 2002. “There’s no substitute for that.”
According to Whitaker, other area fire departments and volunteer departments will benefit greatly from having a training facility nearby.
“Having this facility gives the opportunity to have our outlying, rural departments come in and do their training here,” he said. “As little live fire training as we get, they get even less.”
With nine separate rooms, the two-and-a-half story burn building’s unique layout was initially designed with the help of Clovis Fire Department personnel. The building also includes a confined space maze, balcony and zipline capability.
“Generally, structures have been designed with one burn room on the first floor,” Westerman said. “They’re very limited in their capabilities to provide adequate training for firefighters.”
Westerman also said several fire departments in New Mexico, as well as the Los Angeles Fire Department, are interested in coming to Clovis to see the design of the facility.
The total cost of the final phase of the project is an estimated $900,000, with the first two phases costing a combined $700,000.
Westerman said construction on the burn building should be completed by Aug. 16, which will be followed by several weeks of training for firefighters to learn how to safely use the facility.