The Rocky Mountain Emergency Services Training Center, just east of the Helena Regional Airport, is poised to become one of the top firefighting training centers in the country, not to mention the region.
That’s the assessment of the leaders of the center and the airport following the recent arrival of four new simulators that can replicate a variety of emergency situations.
Two of the units resemble long mobile homes.
One, a structural fire simulator, includes movable walls and numerous props, such a stove and furniture. They can be made to burn and smoke at various levels of intensity, all by remote control.
That enables a wide variety of potential scenarios and levels of difficulty for firefighters, all with relative safety.
“Once you get it all smoked up in here, you can’t see a thing,” said Pete Hartman, the center’s facilities and training coordinator, as he led a tour through the unit.
That unit even has a second story that can expand upward from the main structure.
Soon, it will have flashy fire-related graphics on its sides.
The second large unit is designed to simulate fires and other emergencies involving hazardous materials and other unusual circumstances.
Props there include a spill simulator, simulated propane and diesel tanks and an electrical panel that can be made to pop, spark and sizzle just like an actual panel in a fire.
The center also now has a model of a Blackhawk helicopter, complete with rotors, to practice fighting fires in the engine, in the cabin or elsewhere. Also new is an automobile fire simulator.
The helicopter and car come with trailers, so they can be hauled to other locations for firefighter training.
But the center figures firefighters from around the region will come to Helena, which now boasts one of the most complete setups for training equipment in the Northwest.
In addition to the new items, the center has a couple of airplane-like simulators, a pile of rubble (with chambers within, to replicate rescue in a collapsed building) and a training track for vehicles.
The new items were acquired with a $1 million COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, secured by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
The center hopes to have the new units operating in the spring.