Back in Business: Texas fire school resumes summer industrial training
By ANTON RIECHER/IFW Editor
Beginning in the late 1960s Beaumont, TX played host to a summer training school attended by industrial firefighters across the state and, eventually, from around the world. Then, in 2004, that tradition was set aside by a new regime at the Beaumont fire school.
David Owens with Industrial Rescue, operator of the recently reopened school, plans to resume the annual event beginning in May 2019.
“It’s a big deal for us to get that going again,” Owens said. “It will give all the local emergency response companies around here the opportunity to train together again.”
Scheduled for May 6 through 10, the summer school will offer training in interior and exterior firefighting, rescue, leadership and other topics important to emergency response teams.
“I’ve talked to most of the players out there and they’re all excited about being a part of it,” Owens said. “Most of them started out on this fire field.”
Now known as the Industrial Rescue Fire Training Field, the fire school remained closed for nearly a year in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It resumed operations on August 1.
“We did 71 schools in the month of August,” Owens said. “We conducted 68 schools during September and we expect to finish November with around the same number.”
Nearly 150 future schools for emergency responders have already been booked, he said.
“We’ve had a huge, huge following of people to call initially,” Owens said. “We are very excited about it.”
Sharing space on the new IRFT sign at the front gate are logos for Team IRIS Rescue, a sister company to Owen’s International Rescue training; the Lamar Institute of Technology (LIT), and SRG, a crane operation company that will be moving to the fire field in the coming months.
“They are going to be offering crane rigging training and other operations training out here,” Owens said.
The month of November saw the addition of a new administration building and several new classroom buildings to the site. Plans also call for LIT, a name long associated with the school in the 1980s and 1990s, to add their own new building to the campus.
The new buildings have increased the IRFT training capacity from 120 students per day to more than 200 per day, Owens said. These new building will be on the highest ground available near the front gates, Owens said.
“It’s more elevated,” he said, a reference to the heavy flooding that closed the training facility in August 2017.
Improvements slated for the lower end of the property is the addition of an oil spill response school in a dredged out area along the Neches River, Owens said.
“The majority of plants today are on waterways, either a river or a bayou,” Owens said. “We will be training those emergency response teams on how to deal with a spill, such as using a small boat to lay booms to contain the product.”
As a substitute for spilled product, the plan is to use rice hulls, he said.
“They float and then biodegrade back into the environment,” Owens said.
Industrial Rescue also plans to add training in trench and shoring operations on the north side of the campus.
“We are talking to some good friends that have run programs elsewhere in the country on heavy rescue, trench shoring and all types of rescue techniques,” Owens said.
One of the biggest construction projects planned is moving a simulated process unit located at Industrial Rescue’s old training site in Beaumont. The prop is twice as big as any other project of the fire field, but is not designed for live-fire training.
“It comes complete with switchback stairs, multiple towers, multi-level pipe racks, columns and reactors,” Owens said. “It is intended for training in structural rescue and hazmat. We’ve got leaks as high as 40 feet off the ground. Instead of doing it in the parking lot, we train like the leak is in an actual plant.”
In the course of repair and maintenance at the fire school, IRFT has replaced all the fuel pumps and motors that went underwater during the flooding, he said. The IRFT crew has also spent time “tweeking” the live-fire training props to get the best performance.
“We wanted to get the fire props dialed in to where they are more efficient,” Owens said. “In the past it has been expensive to train here due to fuel use. My team came in and redesigned the props to use different tips for better fuel disbursement. We’re getting a bigger, prettier fire for half the fuel.”
Several of the surviving buildings have gotten new roofs despite the fact that the flood water never reached them.
“It was just general deterioration,” Owens said.
Since the reopening, Industrial Rescue has trained firefighters visiting from ExxonMobil, Motiva, BASF, Westlake Chemicals and TPC Group. Those who traveled the furthest included responders from Angola in Africa.
Team IRIS, which places firefighter in foreign jobs, makes it possible to promote training in Beaumont internationally, Owens said.
The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service is in the process of auditing Industrial Rescue to obtain ProBoard certification. TEEX has also been conducting an evaluation that would designate IRFT as one of its official learning centers.
Choosing which fire school to attend is subject to many different reasons, Owens said. One of those reasons is quality.
“I will say it on the record that the Brayton Fire Training Field at A&M is the flag ship as far as these facilities,” he said. “Unfortunately, many small plants that want good quality, ProBoard certified training but it gets expensive when you have to factor in travel and hotels.
Sentiment is another factor that swings in IRFT’s favor, Owens said.
“I grew up in Beaumont from the age of 10,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who grew up using other schools around the country and that’s their home.”