One entered through the front door as a woman in a grey hooded sweatshirt scurried anxiously by. Another held the nozzle of a large, white fire hose, steadying it as gallons and gallons of water rushed inside to still the flames.
But Anniston residents had nothing to fear. The house had been set on fire on purpose for the first class to attend the Anniston Regional Training Center. The center is part of a two-year-old state network of 12 such centers intended to make it easier for firefighters and recruits to get the training they need, and to reduce the cost of that training for recruits and fire departments.
According to Anniston fire Sgt. Rodney Ball, the recruits who practiced on the burning house today will continue with their live-fire training Tuesday and take their state certification test – to be the first group to graduate from the Anniston Regional Training Center – on Friday.
According to Anniston fire Sgt. Brendon Connell, live-fire training is a culmination of all the skills recruits learn during their eight-week training course.
“They get all the basics and this brings it together in a real-life scenario,” he said.
Anniston fire Chief Tony Taylor said the Anniston Fire Department has been an Alabama Fire College Regional Training Center for firefighters for more than a year. It is one of 12 in the Alabama Fire College Regional Training Center Network, established to help lower travel costs for state firefighters. The others are in Birmingham, Decatur, Dothan, Fort Payne, Fort Rucker, Huntsville, Mobile, Muscle Shoals, Orange Beach, Prattville and Shelby County.
John James, director of the Alabama Fire College regional program, said any state fire department can apply to host a regional training center if it meets certain qualifications, including having appropriate facilities to teach classes, being a reasonable distance from recruits’ homes and having the right training supplies.
James said though there are still some courses that are required to be taken at the college, if a regional facility is set up for them, then college officials can try to host the course there.
James and Taylor both said the real savings isn’t in the cost of tuition, which can be between $900 to $1,000 depending on a recruit’s skill level, but in the logistics of travel to the college.
“Depending on the type of training, mileage, lodging and food, it can cost thousands of dollars,” Taylor said.
Kyle Macoy, an Oxford fire captain who helped with the training Monday, said having a local training center is beneficial for local fire departments because it cuts down on more than half the training expenses for new recruits.
Jacksonville firefighter Ryan Rodan, 38, agreed with Macoy. Rodan said a local training center is not only cost-effective, but it saves time.
“It’s nothing to come down to Anniston,” he said.
Anniston firefighter Joseph Meeks, 29, enjoys the local angle for another reason.
“I get to be trained by the guys I’m going to work with,” he said.
Ball, who has been with the Anniston Fire Department for 21 years, said the process of becoming a firefighter is intense. Recruits must first pass a physical ability test and be accepted into a training program.
Ball said live-fire training is the last of the training recruits do, and it’s a win-win situation for the Fire Department and the city.
“The city gets rid of useless property and recruits learn to put out fires and navigate through fire consumed buildings,” Ball said.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.