Editor's Note: The following article was contributed.
Firefighters across Westchester will be able to resume training at the smoke house at the county’s fire training center in Valhalla following a $400,000 reconstruction of the structure.
County Executive Robert P. Astorino made the announcement Tuesday before observing a fire training exercise at the facility conducted by the Grasslands Fire Brigade. Astorino said the Smoke House project and an additional $100,000 renovation of the center’s Live Burn Propane Building were key elements of his commitment to support the fire service.
“Each day, the members of the fire service in our county put themselves at risk responding to fires and other emergencies. They do everything they can to keep the public safe. The fire service has my commitment that the county will do all it can to keep firefighters safe,” Astorino said.
Astorino said the county was constantly assessing the curriculum and facilities at the fire training center to make sure they were the best they could be. Upgrades to the equipment, structures and classroom instruction at the training center are made in consultation with members of the fire service.
“The county is proud to partner with our local fire departments to provide the fire training services that ensure the safety of the members of the fire service who protect the rest of us,” Astorino said. “This is an essential and significant service that the county provides.”
Commissioner John M. Cullen of the Department of Emergency Services, which runs the fire training center, said the Smoke House was closed two years ago for a substantial reconstruction project. Years of fires and related firefighter training inside the building had taken its toll on the structure, he said.
Renovations to the structure include:
- Rebuilding the burn area where wood pallets and bales of hay are set ablaze to create heat and smoke throughout the building.
- Removing all old concrete from the walls of the first and second stories and replacing it with refractory cement, which stands up better to heat, smoke and the rigors of training.
- Rebuilding the flooring on the first two levels.
- Renovating the attic to include windows and dormers, and renovating the basement – all to improve the rescue and life-safety training that can place inside the structure.
Cullen said another structure at the fire training center, known as the Live Burn Propane Building, is nearing completion of a $100,000 renovation project. In this structure, fire is created in its various rooms by using propane burners, which can be instantly cut off with the flip of a switch.
Propane burners in the living room, kitchen and bedroom of the building have been upgraded to create a more realistic and hotter fire—sending temperatures inside to as much as 1,000 degrees. A car prop is also being added to the structure’s driveway that can simulate a car fire—both an engine compartment fire and a passenger compartment fire. The car prop can be placed both inside the garage or outside in the driveway to create realistic scenarios for firefighters.
“We know that these improved facilities will help the fire service to train better and smarter,” Astorino said. “And we know we are on the right path—the number of training hours being provided and the number of firefighters being trained are both at record levels."
Cullen noted that 17,000 students participated in more than 81,000 hours of training at DES through Aug. 31 of this year, a 10 percent increase from the same period two years ago. DES projects that 27,000 students will participate in 125,000 hours of training by year’s end.
Persons receiving a wide variety of training at DES include career and volunteer firefighters, emergency medical service personnel, office of emergency management staff and other first responders.