This month, a couple of the vacant grocery stores had a few visitors – the Golder Ranch Fire and Northwest Fire districts. They weren’t on a call – they were running through a big box store training exercise.

At both the Golder Ranch’s training store at Oracle and Rancho Vistoso, and the Northwest Fire’s training store at Tangerine and Dove Mountain, the front windows of the vacant supermarket were covered with black plastic. The back door was rigged with a door frame where fire fighters could practice their breaching techniques, and the entire store was filled with fog to simulate smoke. 

Though the districts hope they never have to use the skills they are learning, it is something they need to be ready at a moment’s notice. 

Northwest Fire District Capt. Adam Goldberg finds these training exercises very important to not only keep the community safe, but the fire fighters safe as well.

“Every day we run medical calls and more frequently we see car fires and sometimes residential house fires,” Goldberg said. “It’s our bread and butter, we are quite comfortable with it.”

Attempting to fight a fire in a big box store is what the departments call a very low frequency, very high-risk type of fire.

“We have to have the opportunity to come out and practice it as realistically as possible in this type of situation. When and if a fire like this occurs, we are going to need to have had practice and some understanding of the hazards, or how physically demanding it is to fight a fire in a big box store.”

The scenarios were similar at both locations where the fire fighters arrived on scene at the front of the store, unload their larger hoses, and then find it is too short to reach the fire, which is in the back of the store.

In March of 2001, a Phoenix firefighter by the name of Bret Tarver died while fighting a fire in a large store. The training that was co-created by the two fire districts was created to prevent a similar incident from happening.

Golder Ranch Fire Chief Randy Karrer understands that it is extremely important to perform these types of trainings in new and unique environments and to learn from incidents in the past.

“The sizes of these buildings are much different than other fires we encounter,” Karrer said. “It’s a completely different set of tactics that we have to use and a completely different strategy to manage these types of incidents.”

Every crew from every station from both Golder Ranch and Northwest Fire districts will run through the training exercises twice.

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