Imagine a semi-trailer sized, 350-degree, Playskool-type educational toy designed for firefighters.

That's what the FireBlast 451 Advanced Fire Training Simulator is to seven area fire districts that have recently taken possession of their newest training tool.

The nearly $350,000 trailer was purchased with grant money from the federal government and contributions from seven local participating fire districts, based on each district's size, with the largest district making the largest proportional contribution. The Federal Fire Act Grant was for 80 percent of the cost, and the districts came up with the rest.

Districts involved in the partnership are Golder Ranch, Northwest Fire, Avra Valley, Picture Rocks, Drexel, Three Points and Green Valley.

Each district has the trailer in its territory for one to two months at a time, depending on how many firefighters need training. The other months of the year will be used for servicing and maintenance as needed. This will make training convenient; the new equipment is always near firefighters who'll be using it.

The mobile simulator, or "burn trailer" as it's called, can simulate numerous scenarios, including a two-story house or apartment, a manufactured home, an apartment balcony, a professional or a residential kitchen, a factory or an industrial building.

There is a special hinged wall inside that enables firefighters to practice extricating a fire victim through a very narrow space. The roof can be flat or pitched, and the firefighters can practice ventilating the roof. The structure allows the firefighters to practice forcible entry without having to reconstruct the doorframe after every maneuver, because the steel frame moves on a track and returns by spring loading after entry is gained.

A non-toxic "smoker" also limits visibility, much like real smoke but with no danger to the trainees inside.

The training unit is completely self-contained, and two 90-gallon propane tanks hold enough fuel to allow approximately 30 simulations. They'll normally be maintained to at least half capacity for maximum pressure.

Captain Mark Day, training captain for Golder Ranch Fire District, said the simulator is "a safe way for firefighters to train in a realistic way. And it's environmentally safe."

Because the only fuel for the fire is air and propane, no smoke fills the air as it would if the firefighters were to practice, for instance, in an old house scheduled for demolition. With the mobile simulator, there are numerous redundant safety cutoffs, both inside and out, and safety of the firefighters while training is a key feature that made the fire simulator a desirable acquisition.

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