EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
MARBLE FALLS — Give firefighters and EMS personnel a vacant 76,000-square-foot building, and you’ve created a training mecca. That’s what H-E-B presented to area first responders March 12 when it opened the former Marble Falls grocery store to crews from several departments.
“In my 32 years as a firefighter, I’ve never had this kind of opportunity,” said Marble Falls Fire Rescue Chief Russell Sander. “This gives us the chance to do things in training that we don’t usually get to do.”
Crews from Marble Falls Fire Rescue, the Marble Falls Area Volunteer Fire Department, the Horseshoe Bay Fire Department, the Granite Shoals Fire Department, and Marble Falls Area EMS staged at the former grocery store, 1503 RR 1431, from 3-9 p.m. March 12. In all, about 38 first responders participated.
Firefighters went through a series of training stations, which included operating interior sprinkler systems, working in the aerial/ladder truck, search-and-rescue operations, and even breeching walls and rooftops.
While firefighters constantly train for emergencies, Sander explained that training is often conducted at fire stations or similar locations.
“We’re all used to training at the fire station, but this puts us in a more realistic situation — but still controlled,” he said.
At one of the training stations, fire crews practiced carrying, placing, and extending ladders. Marble Falls Fire Rescue Capt. Sam Stacks pointed out a number of things a team of two firefighters must do to do properly use and secure an extension ladder.
As the firefighters practiced using the ladder against the vacant building’s wall, Marble Falls Area VFD Chief Michael Phillips reminded crews things change when responding to an actual fire.
“Here, we don’t have any power lines directly around; we can see around us,” Phillips said as he pointed to the clear sky and a lack of obstructions near the ladders. “But when you get to a house, especially at night, you have to be very aware about what’s around you. Be very cautious, (because) you can touch a power line, you can touch a tree.”
Those insights were another important part of the joint training exercise. Several veteran members of the different departments each added their knowledge and experience as they led the training.
“You have different people from different departments leading the different stations, so (the fire crews) are getting to meet the senior people from the area departments and learn from these senior people,” Sander added.
Another benefit of joint training is bringing together the different fire departments so staff get to train and work alongside each other in a controlled situation.
“It’s very valuable to train like this with all the departments,” Sander said. “Sometimes, the only chance we get to work together is at a scene, but here, we get to know each other, put faces with names. It’s a big benefit for everyone.”
Access to the old H-E-B store gave the firefighters a chance to actually breech walls and cut through a roof, not something they can do at a fire station. And in the expansive interior, firefighters could practice more realistic search-and-rescue drills as well as Marble Falls Area EMS conducting down firefighter drills.
“The value of being able to do this, in such a large building, is really invaluable,” Sander added. “We can use what we learn here in so many different ways — especially in case we ever have to respond to something at Walmart, (The) Home Depot, Lowe’s, or even the new H-E-B.”