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CVTC Unveils New Fire Safety Center

CVTC Fire Safety Center Director Kim Nessel, wearing protective gear, attacks a flammable liquids fire inside the burn room of the new facility during an open house on Thursday, May 1.

Kim Nessel, director of the new Fire Safety Center at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), explained that the heat from a fire of flammable liquids is so intense that a firefighter facing it might have a natural inclination to turn his or her head away from the heat, but that would be a mistake. The proper approach, he said, is to face the fire and let the heat wash around the protective headgear and attack the fire.

The opportunity for firefighters to learn such techniques through firsthand experience is one of the many benefits of the new Fire Safety Center unveiled at Chippewa Valley Technical College Thursday. Nessel, dressed in a silvery protective suit, described the strategy to a crowd of visitors who had just witnessed Nessel quickly extinguish such a fire indoors in a specially designed room.

It was one of several demonstrations held at an open house for all of CVTC’s Emergency Services programs in conjunction with a ribbon cutting at the Fire Safety Center.

“This is really a unique facility. There are only five facilities similar to this in the entire world,” said CVTC President Bruce Barker.

The facility, located at the CVTC Emergency Services Campus on Eau Claire’s northwest side, was made possible by donations from the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation and the CVTC Foundation.

“This is a world-class facility head and shoulders above any other facility in the world,” said Maryjo Cohen, president of the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation.

“The Fire Safety Center is set up for multiple functions,” said Nessel. “One is to do testing and research and development of products in the manufacturing phase.”

The demonstration at the open house involved the effectiveness of fire extinguishers, which can be weighed at the start and finish of the test to help determine the amount of fire suppression substances needed to handle certain size fires. Future uses for the facility, with some modifications, could include fire testing of building materials and household products.

“At some point manufacturers have to do fire testing, and that’s what the burn room will be set up to do,” Nessel said.
The facility also includes an outdoor burn area, but the indoor 50’ X 50’ burn room is a remarkable feat of engineering, with thick concrete walls 30 feet high and a ceiling lined with fireproof and heat-dissipating calcium silicate tiles. Two fans on the roof and can each move 15,000 cubic feet per second of air. Air intake vents on the walls can be adjusted in conjunction with the fan speeds to tightly control the amount of air fueling the fire. A foam fire suppression system is on hand if needed.

Conditions are controlled by computer in an adjoining observation room, which includes a window into the burn room from which the open house visitors watched the demonstrations.

Use of the facility for product testing will greatly benefit businesses in the area and around the Midwest, and also provide funding to maintain the center.

Highlighted most at the open house, however, was how the center will improve fire safety in the Chippewa Valley through its use as a training facility.

“We’ve never been able to train for certain types of scenarios. This will make the area safer,” Barker said.

“It will allow personnel in our area to get quality training,” said Allyn Bertang, deputy chief of training for the Eau Claire Fire Department. “This is going to be a real controlled environment and help us understand the science of fire behavior.”

“My grandfather would have been very proud to have his name associated with this fire center,” said Cohen, referring to L.E. Phillips. “He would have been the first to give credit where credit is due – to the people of Chippewa Valley Technical College who made this possible.”

“We are extremely grateful to the Phillips Family Foundation for working with us,” Barker said.

Besides the tours and demonstrations at the Fire Safety Center, the open house provided visitors with opportunities to try on fire gear, use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire, try the Jaws of Life for vehicle extrications, learn firearms safety and basic firing range techniques, lift fingerprints from a simulated crime scene and test their handgun accuracy in a firearms simulation game. There were also several demonstrations to observe, including operation of fire trucks and pumps, firefighters rappelling from a tower during a rescue demonstration, EMT and paramedic students demonstrating a cardiac arrest scenario, and criminal Justice students demonstrating a tactical scenario.