Gondola building provides rare training opportunity for Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue

Steamboat Springs firefighter Nick Kuchulis works with crew members to haul a charged line up a stairwell inside the Gondola Building at Steamboat Resort. Members of Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue spent several days this week running through training drills at the building, which is slated to be demolished next month. (Photo by John F. Russell)

A fire has broken out inside the gondola building at Steamboat Resort, and a construction worker is trapped by flames inside the dark smoke- and flame-filled room inside the building.

The scenario is just a training exercise, but the eight-member crew from Steamboat Fire Rescue took full advantage of a rare opportunity to train inside the gondola building, which is slated to be demolished next month.

“When you go to a training facility, you’re not dealing with real doors, you’re not dealing with real windows or with real roofs and walls,” said Michael Arce, a captain with Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue. “When we get an acquired structure, it’s real.”

On this night, members of Arce’s team used a ladder truck to reach a second-floor roof and then used tools to break through a glass window. Smoke, created by a smoke machine inside the building, poured out as firefighters climbed through the window in full bunker gear. It wasn’t real, but it looked real for those watching, and Arce was hoping it felt real for the firefighters who were taking part.

“We don’t really have a training facility and training props,” said Chris Welch, training lieutenant with Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue. “Oftentimes, there’s like burn towers where you can have the opportunity to pull charged lines and crawl through tight spaces and simulated fire scenarios. We don’t really have that type of facility, so we rely on donated buildings — and in this day and age, they just don’t come around very often.”

This week crews from Steamboat Fire Rescue worked through a number of different scenarios at the gondola building. The crew members could break windows, pull heavy hoses up the stairs and fill a room with smoke without worry.

Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli said the chance to train in a real building offers the firefighters in Steamboat Springs important training that will pay off in real-life situations, so the department often reaches out when they learn about a possible training site.

Smoke pours out of a broken upper floor window at the Steamboat Resort's gondola building Tuesday afternoon as firefighter Nick Brookshire from Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue works through a training exercise that involves entering the building and rescuing a trapped victim. (Photo by John F. Russell)

“We try to keep an eye on buildings that might be up for demolition,” Cerasoli said. “I think we reached out to (Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.) and the contractor that was working on the building … and in this case, the ski resort was very happy to work with us.”

Cerasoli said Steamboat Resort has been a great partner, and the two entities were able to navigate the legal hurdles to make this week’s training a reality.

“They allowed us to have a few days before they take it down to go in there and do what we can,” Cerasoli said.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue’s Dane Visnick works his way up a stairwell at the Steamboat Resort’s gondola building earlier this week during a training exercise. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The department trained two of its shifts in the building Monday and Tuesday and plans to train another shift Thursday.

“The training that we do get is in our own fire department buildings, and it’s just not that realistic because, obviously, we can’t tear apart our fire station,” Welch said. “When we come and train here, it doesn’t matter if we break things, or we spray some water here and there. That’s why this is a good opportunity for us to be able to make our training as realistic as possible. We want to train the way we do things as if we are actually fighting these fires.”

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