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GFFR is working to create an all-hazards training facility for first responders

Fire training center on 9th Street South in Great Falls
Great Falls Fire Chief, Jeremy Jones
Posted at 5:35 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 19:45:07-04

GREAT FALLS — Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones says he is aiming to get an all-hazards training facility for first responders. The current training center on 9th Street South is "temporarily condemned," due to the pumice block wall that ended up moving, which took it out of service.

Jones explained, "We ended up having to hire a structural engineer to determine what it would take to get that back to a usable standard. That took an extremely long amount of time, and then we had to go after the funding for that. Then COVID happened in the middle of that and now prices are twice as high. So we think we have the money to get it back operational to put out for bid this fall. And then, lo and behold, all of a sudden now, we've got to meet the new OSHA requirements for fall hazards within that type of facility. So we're not even sure where we're at yet."

Jones said other avenues that are a challenge to the training center is not having an all-hazards training crop.

He said, "We have a very convoluted way to burn a couple of pallets in a context container and simulate a house fire. We don't have a real training environment for that, so we're looking at pursuing that. The hazards of all the asphalt that's falling. We have a lot of dirt. We have engines that are sinking while they're out training in this type of heat getting stuck. So really a rejuvenation of the current training center and then creating a master plan for future development and growth that will encompass all of Montana and be available to all Montanans through a training cooperative agreement through inter local government.

Jones said he is working with the Great Falls Police Department, Cascade County Sheriff's Office, Montana Highway Patrol, and rural fire departments on this project. He said without collaboration, this project would not be affordable.

Great Falls Fire Chief, Jeremy Jones
Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones

"One of the areas that we focus on and have focused on in the last few years is active shooter events and creating rescue task force training, and what we do is that we go in, try to stop the immediate threat to life by the bleeding and the gunshot wounds," said Jones. "We do that in conjunction with law enforcement who provide lethal overwatch for the paramedics. When you have those type of events, you have law enforcement agencies from all over the region coming in to help out whether that be highway patrol, probation or parole, the Sheriff's Office, Great Falls Police Department, Great Falls Fire Department, or we go out into the county and we provide that paramedic rescue task force for the county sheriffs, for the rural schools.

He added, "We go back to the Gibson Flats Fire last fall, where you have multiple county and municipal agencies working together hand-in-hand to mitigate that event and try to save as much life and property as we possibly can. You can go to Denton. We responded to an engine company and our ambulance up to the Amtrak derailment last summer. The geographical boundaries of the state are not limiting anymore. So being able to have the facilities in place to be able to work with our public safety partners no matter what color uniform you wear, is really crucial."

Jones, alongside the Great Falls Police Chief and Cascade County Sheriff, are going to be presenting to the local government committee on Wednesday, September 7th, in Helena to pitch the idea of a state fixed asset facility for all public hazards training.

Jones said they are asking for a one-time influx that would be paid out through the government surplus money. The city's match would be the 9.5-acre facility that they already currently have, then developing a consortium group for the long-term sustainment costs of providing that facility, and making it open to all people of public safety.