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Fire readiness center is ready

"It was an anxious moment, even though it was expected. The sight of a half dozen firefighters in yellow-striped brown bunker gear lugging a downed firefighter out of a smoking building was heart-stopping, in the words of Bremerton Assistant Fire Chief Ron McKiernan.The rescue was a simulation, part of a training exercise last week at the new Kitsap Readiness Center at the National Guard Armory on Linden Road in Bremerton. But even knowing it was a simulation, sometimes you still wonder if it's for real McKiernan said as the firefighters gingerly lowered their fallen comrade to the ground.He was up again in short order, ready to go on with the next part of the training.This particular exercise involved responding to an alarm at a motel, complete with smoke pouring from the third-floor windows of the training tower. The third floor of the recently completed tower was set up like a motel, complete with furniture and dummies made by the firefighter trainers. The rescue was performed by the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), a separate group from the others fighting the fire. The team's primary purpose is to rescue firefighters in trouble, but it also could be used to save other victims.The motel and a downed firefighter was just one of several scenarios the trainers can set up at the new center to simulate real situations.The readiness center is a cooperative venture among the state, the Navy, fire districts from Jefferson and Kitsap counties and Olympic College, which operates a Firefighter in Training (FIT) program.FIT students can earn a two-year fire science degree, which incorporates an associates degree and emergency medical technician certificate.Students come to the readiness center for beginning, intermediate and advanced sessions, each of which lasts three weeks. In the last, they deal with the scenarios simulating residential gas leak fires, kitchen fires and the motel fire.Fire props, such as a deep fat fryer, propane tank and a fuel storage facility line the west side of the center.The basement level of the six-story fire tower is set up like a room on a ship, with pipes overhead and along one wall, a computer console, bunkers, lockers, electrical panels and a piece of machinery in the middle.Navy firefighting teams from Subase Bangor and Naval Station Bremerton, as well as Washington State Ferry workers, will begin training at the center soon, Stewart said. The Navy helped get federal and state grants to build the center. A makeshift obstacle course is laid out in another room. It uses collapsible tables tipped on their sides, lockers with their doors up, and 30-inch tubes, arranged in a maze across the floor.It's a search-and-rescue maze. Instructors can get really creative, said Stewart. They can black the (firefighters') masks, or fill the room with smoke for the firefighters to find and rescue a victim.There are also props for military personnel who might be called on for bomb training. Two black bomb-shaped cylinders rested on a hand trolly near the tower. Greetings, painted in white on the bombs, said Good Morning, Sadam and Have a Nice Day.They were fakes, old gas cylinders with fins welded on. But effective training props. Because this (Firefighter In Training) program is so new, these guys will go to levels not available to others who've gone before, said Stewart. It's a new flavor, new perspective of what firefighting is about. It's more realistic.Firefighting has become extremely scientific. There are no more 'smoke eaters.' We don't enter a building without a plan, said Stewart.The site, which currently has a temporary, two-classroom building, eventually will have a permanent building with about eight classrooms, and a new combination building that will be shared by the National Guard and the fire services.Right now there's a bill in the Legislature to fund the readiness center, said McKiernan.He said the National Guard is trying to change the name of its armories to be known more as readiness centers. Two more are planned in the state, in Spokane and Yakima.Last year we got the federal funding. This year we're going for the state funding, through appropriations by the Legislature, McKiernan said.For more information about the new training center, visit www.kitsapreadinesscenter.org. "

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