New training tower major asset for RFD

By T. Scott Boatright

Preparation is the key to good fire protection.

And now the Ruston Fire Department can prepare better than ever before thanks to an anonymous donation of $50,000.

Because of that donation the RFD now has an “Open-Air” design fire department steel training tower that allows both instructors and those being trained to have a clear view of instruction (and trainee mistakes) during training exercises. Unlike enclosed fire department training towers, the new tower located at the RFD Central Fire Station offers unlimited views to what is happening inside the drill tower.

“Someone anonymously paid for not all of it, but the bulk of it,” said RFD Chief Chris Womack. “And that was a true blessing. It’s helping make us an even better fire department.”

Previously, RFD firefighters had to do all of their training at the Lincoln Parish Fire Training Facility located near the Lincoln Parish Exposition Center north of Ruston. 

“We are partners (with the Lincoln Parish Fire Department) in the training facility off of Expo Road,” Womack said. “There’s a three story steel tower there that has a burn room. But for us to go out there and train ends up limiting our coverage for any emergencies that pop up in the city. 

“So we only use it at specific times of the year for crew training. But now that we have this tower here at the Central Station, it gives us the ability to do training any time of day without affecting our ability to quickly respond to any calls we get.”

While similar, Womack said there is a difference between the training facility tower and the new RFD tower.

“The difference is that we can’t do any kind of burn with this tower here,” Womack said. “This is strictly a tower for training for using stairs, ladders, ropes and any other such activities.”

But having the new tower doesn’t mean the RFD won’t use the Lincoln Parish Fire Training facility any longer.

“That is still our official training center as far as PIAL is concerned, because it meets the requirement of having a burn room on it,” Womack said. “We have to do 18 hours of training per year at the official training site to meet our PIAL requirements. 

“Our goal is to do that minimum of 18 hours of training per year over there, but most of the rest of our stuff will probably be done here (at the Central Fire Station).

PIAL stands for the Property Insurance Association of Louisiana, which issues fire protection ratings. All fire districts are graded on a scale of 1 to 10 by PIAL, with 10 representing no fire protection and 1 representing the best level of protection. The PIAL considers multiple factors when determining a district’s grading, including training. Improved fire ratings may lead to reduced fire insurance premiums for property owners in the associated area.

“The first and main benefit of the new tower is location,” Womack said. “But if over the years we’re able to expand our concrete foundation the tower is on, the tower can be moved. So that’s beneficial, too.

“It’s got multiple platforms. Our firefighters have already done repelling and rope rescue training since we’ve had it. We can do ladders from any side. You name it, and we can pretty much do it with that tower.”

Womack said the proximity of the  tower — located on the property of the Central Fire Station — will mean more training opportunities for firefighters while being able to respond quickly should an emergency call come in.

“Having it here makes it safer for the whole city,” Womack said. “I learned a tough lesson a while back, between 2005-10. We had taken a majority of the crew out to the training center off of Expo Road. We were about five miles outside (north) of city limits and of course we had a fire next to fuel pumps on the south side of town. 

“That made it evident very quickly that we just could not take a whole crew out there to train. We had to break it into pieces, which doesn’t make for good team training when during an actual call you need the whole team working together as one. So like I said, this new fire is a blessing for both the RFD and everyone living and working in Ruston.”