The Fire Department began using its new "burn tower" this week. The three-story building will allow the department's 25 volunteer and five paid firefighters to practice simulated technical-rescue operations locally.
Completed in October of last year, the facility is made of rugged stainless steel and contains two insulated burn rooms that can withstand licking flames and heat in excess of 1,200 degrees. Interior and exterior stairwells snake upward around crawl spaces and assorted rooms outfitted with walls that can be modified to create various interior settings.
A double-pitched roof offers high-angle, attic-rescue practice, including creating ventilation openings or escape routes with an axe.
The highest point is the tower, which stands on the building's north side. Firefighters use the tower to practice rappelling down its side, going through essential drills that allow them to rehearse rescue situations unique to San Juan County.
"A lot of what we do in this region is provide help to the oil and gas industry, which involves a lot of vertical structures this tower effectively approximates," said Fire Chief George Duncan. "For example, common work we'll do will be confined space and high-angle rescue. You've got to retrieve the people from the building before you can treat them, so this training is absolutely key."
The structure cost nearly a half million dollars to construct, but the expense is considerably cheaper than the same facility made today of concrete.
"It took two years of planning and six months to build," said Captain John Mohler, a third-generation member of the department. "The tower gives us the advantage of ensuring all our firefighters are trained in less common but critical rescue operations."
The department paid for the tower from three sources -- more than $100,000 from the federal government for fighting forest fires, roughly $200,000 from multiple years' allotments from the state fire fund, and a loan through the New Mexico Finance Authority, approved with passage of an ordinance by city council, for $110,000.
The only other similar training facility is a concrete model built in the 80s and located at San Juan College.
"Having the facility in our back yard saves us time and money," Mohler said. "Trainings in Farmington took a full day and limited us to once a year. Now we can train more often and accommodate all of our personnel in shorter windows of time."
Councilman Pat Lucero served the department as both a volunteer and paid firefighter for nearly 20 years, starting at age sixteen. He believes having the tower 200 feet from the engine house is a smart investment.
"There's so much need for technical-rescue capabilities for firefighters and now they have it," Lucero said. "It's a huge improvement that they'll spend more time training and less time traveling."
The training facility not only opens up greater opportunities for skill training by Bloomfield's firefighters but also becomes a key resource for neighboring municipalities' departments.
"We are going to offer it to our neighbors - Aztec, Farmington, San Juan County - at no charge," Chief Duncan said. "We want to ensure not only our department is at the top of our game in certification and training, but ensure all departments benefit, too."
For Mike Prince, second-generation firefighter, keeping high standards with regular practice is about pride in the city and being ready when it comes to helping its citizens.
"We can get in a lot of practice drills, honing the skills we need to be a first-class department capable of keeping our community safe," Prince, 21, said. "This is what we do."