This morning I was standing in broad daylight between the DuPage Savings & Loan and the Corner Café on Main Street. Within seconds, the street went dark, the street lights flicked on and I was standing in the moonlight. How did this happen so quickly? With a simple tap on a computerized pad.
I was visiting the street scene in the $23-million College of DuPage Homeland Security Education Center Fire, Police and Public Safety Training Center in Glen Ellyn, Ill. Tim Caldwell, instructor and curriculum director, and Daniel Krakora, EMS/fire-science manager, took me on a tour of the 50,000-square-foot building that opened last year.
Besides a life-sized fire station bay with an ambulance inside, the street scene has three working fire hydrants, eight different storefronts with adjustable doors and windows, and roll-up garage doors to allow access for two full-size fire engines. The second story of the street scene offers an array of windows, decks and walkways where fire-science and fire-academy students can run realistic drills in a safe, protected environment.
The entire training facility has an extensive network cameras and microphones so that all drills and lessons can be recorded and played back in the classroom settings.
Caldwell took me from the street scene to the adjoining “smoke room,” which also serves as a hazmat room. He pointed out the slits in the overhead pipes where fire instructors can set off segments of pipe to imitate a hazmat incident with colored or scented water. Walls and partitions easily can be unlatched and moved between classes to offer different scenarios for each session. Thick theatrical smoke can fill the 2-story room within minutes.
The college facility’s latest development for the Fire Science Technology Division offers a center for fire, police and criminal justice classes. In addition, the center is available for local law-enforcement and fire agencies for training on weekends and during off hours.
It was interesting to see the sophisticated training options available to the college’s 600 fire and EMS students this semester. I mentioned to Caldwell and Krakora that the training that was offered was far beyond what some of their officers might have experienced in their whole careers. Both agreed, but also said that they tap into the knowledge and expertise of experienced officers for many of the practical applications.
While trainers cannot conduct live-burn training at the facility, the broad range of exercises and drills that they can offer is extensive. Caldwell explained the college works closely with local high-school students who can earn credits towards college by assisting with specific aspects of drills and sessions, such as the arson element of the program.
The visit to the College of DuPage’s Fire Training Center reinforced my belief that firefighters and EMTs entering the emergency-response services today are better educated and better prepared than previous generations. While fire calls may be down and simulators may be more sophisticated, boots-on-the-ground training can’t be replaced and facilities such as this one offer a new level of realism in training.