By SHERI GASSAWAY
Wellston – A new fire training tower – the latest addition at the St. Louis County Fire Training Academy – was built with all-union hands under a Project Labor Agreement.
The four-story building, which is virtually indestructible, was constructed using shipping containers stacked on top of each other and welded together,” said Kim Besserman, executive director of the St. Louis County Fire Standards Committee.
Besserman, a retired Pattonville Fire Protection District fire fighter and IAFF Local 2665 member, said the new tower, located at 1266 Sutter Ave. in Wellston, is a $550,000 joint venture paid for by Fire Academy, Inc. and St. Louis County.
“Coming from a union background, we did insist on the tower being built all union and were really pleased with the results,” Besserman said. “They had it built way ahead of schedule. It only took four or five days, and our 100th class of recruits will be able to train in it, which is kind of a milestone.”
Lane Ironworks served as the general contractor on the project. Unions that worked on the tower addition included Cement Masons Local 527, IBEW Local 1, Ironworkers Local 396, Laborers’ Local 110 and Operating Engineers Local 513.
Kurt Becker, president of the fire academy’s board of directors and 4th District vice president of IAFF Local 2665, thanked Besserman and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger for their support and assistance in making the dream become a reality.
“What an amazing facility,” Becker said. “I’m very proud to have worked with such a great team to make this happen.”
The academy’s existing tower hasn’t been usable for the last six or seven years, and officials have had to send recruits off site for training at an additional cost, Besserman said.
The new tower will provide recruits with crucial training they need respond to a fire, he said. During a “live burn” scenario, trainees experience firsthand what it’s like to enter a burning building, raise and climb ladders, rappel down buildings and extinguish a fire.
“They actually feel the heat and see the smoke,” Besserman said. “It’s easy to become disoriented in that type of environment, but they learn to work together as a team. The whole idea is to give them a sense of what to do in a real life situation.”
Once the fire is out, the building is drained of the water and used again, he said.
The St. Louis County Fire Academy is a not-for-profit educational corporation, which contracts with the St. Louis County Fire Standards Commission to provide firefighter training for St. Louis County. It holds three training 11- to 12-week training sessions each year.