Police / Fire

Hollister Fire Department gets new training tower

Firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel will get hands-on experience without having to leave San Benito County.

The Hollister Fire Department has a new toy—and it’s a doozy. Resembling giant Lego blocks stacked 40 feet high and weighing more than 75 tons, it’s a new firefighting training prop or tower that’s so much more, said HFD Battalion Chief Phil Rossi, who has spearheaded the project to build it for the past three years.

Made up of 14-, 20- and 40-foot shipping containers, it was trucked from Lockport, Illinois, where it was manufactured by American Fire Training Systems, Inc., and assembled the first week of September at the Hollister’s Industrial Wastewater Treatment Plant and Domestic Water Reclamation Facility.

Rossi explained to BenitoLink the facility not only fulfills HFD’s firefighting training needs, but those of local and regional law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, and even public works personnel who need to be certified for working in confined spaces.

Rossi, 42, born and raised in Hollister, has been with the Hollister Fire Department for 15 years. He said he wanted a local facility because of the difficulty in simulating fires and the cost of sending firefighters out of the area to train.

In 2017, he heard the Monterey Peninsula Foundation might be willing to fund some of HFD’s needs. He filled out an application requesting funding for a fire truck, rescue equipment, and a training tower. The price tag was $850,000.

“They called back that they were excited about funding a training facility and put up $600,000,” Rossi said. “The intent was to try to get groups in the county to donate money. That was a struggle, but they said if the city would put in another $250,000, they would send the check. We went to the City Council and got that $250,000.”

Construction continues on the training tower.
Construction continues on the training tower.

After the council approved the $250,000, a bid was announced. Fireblast Global, based in Corona, won the bid and contracted the construction out to American Fire Training Systems.

Because of local construction requirements, including installing electric and liquid propane gas hookups, the cost increased to approximately $900,000. Rossi said Graniterock contributed part of the additional $50,000, adding he will have to go back to the City Council to secure whatever remaining costs there might be.

Being able to have a controlled environment will be a major advantage, Rossi said, both in training capabilities and cost savings.

“We’ll be able to simulate fire attacks, rescue, rapid intervention, and crew tactics if we have a downed firefighter,” he said. “It has rappelling operations built into it and there’s a maze for the firefighters to make their way through.”

Besides meeting firefighting training and certification requirements, regional law enforcement agencies have already contacted HFD about using the new tower because of the uniqueness it will offer in active shooter, forced entries, and other crime scenarios. There’s even a specially designed breacher training door, which has never been installed in a firefighting training tower before. It will give police SWAT and other tactical teams the ability to train at breaking through a reinforced door with battering rams or shotguns.

Jim Peterson shows a specially configured door firefighters and police use to practice breaches.
Jim Peterson shows a specially configured door firefighters and police use to practice breaches.

“If law enforcement needs to use it to clear a room, we can manipulate the rooms to different configurations so they’re not the same every time,” Rossi said. “I’ve contacted the sheriff’s and police departments to let them know as much as it is for the firefighters, it’s also for them to use. The door was a big thing for them.”

Rossi said being able to work with real fire and smoke, as opposed to simulations, will be a big plus for firefighters. Also, he said the tower will save San Benito County and its residents money in two ways. Because of the tower’s various training features, its International Organization of Standards ratings will lower insurance premiums for residents.

Peterson shows a maze that can be extended for firefighters to crawl through.
Peterson shows a maze that can be extended for firefighters to crawl through.

And because HFD firefighters will not have to travel outside the county for training, they will still be on duty as they train. If need be, they can leave any time to answer calls. This could save in overtime costs because when a crew is out of the county, other crews must work overtime to cover for them.

“Instead of having to go out of the county for training, now all we have to do is pay for an instructor for the class,” Rossi said, adding that there will be future savings as Hollister firefighters become certified in various specialties and can then instruct classes.

The tower could also generate income for San Benito County as regional firefighting and law enforcement agencies pay to use it for training. Rossi anticipates the tower will be ready for classes by the end of September.


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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]