Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Firefighters Dedicate a Building Meant to Burn
Sun Valley Fire Chief Taan Robrahn says these shiny steel panels can be moved to create a variety of mazes.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018


They’ll stand in flames, temperatures up to 800 degrees heating their Fire-Dex protective clothing.  They’ll crawl through wires hanging from what resembles a collapsed ceiling. And they’ll get to shimmy into a manhole to practice a close containment rescue in the event someone might need rescuing in the snowmaking apparatus on Bald Mountain.

It’s all courtesy of the new Fire Training Center, which was dedicated Sunday at 219 Lewis St. across from The Spot and The Laundromutt.

Firefighters from the Ketchum and Sun Valley fire departments performed a coupling of fire hoses in lieu of a ribbon cutting to signify the joining together of the fire departments in the endeavor.

Firefighters held a live firefighting demonstration for a crowd of onlookers as they nibbled wood-fired pizza from Ketchum Grill’s mobile pizza oven.

“This facility has been talked about for 20 years and, thanks to the dedication and financial efforts of the Ketchum/Sun Valley Volunteers Association and the collaboration between our two cities, this is now a reality,” said Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks.

“One of the pillars of Ketchum is safety, and this will add to the safety of our city and the valley,” added Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw.

The three-story corrugated metal building was manufactured out of shipping containers by Fire Training Structures in Phoenix, Ariz. It was painted red at the request of the two local fire departments and shipped to Ketchum in pieces with firefighters putting it together on Sept. 11.

“9/11 has special meaning for us, as we lost 343 firefighters and emergency responders on that day. So  it was important to have this in place on that day,” said Sun Valley Fire Chief Taan Robrahn.

The new Fire Training Center offers numerous possibilities to practice rappelling and litter lowering.

Police Chaplain Tito Riviera asked a blessing on the facility, imploring God to place the building under His care.

“Guide them in their work, protect them from harm and return them to their families,” he asked.

Then, after children had had a chance to wet down the building using a fire hose, firefighters set straw and wood pallets on fire on the first floor. As black smoke and burnt straw belched out the window, three firefighters entered the building wearing 45 pounds of gear and masks providing compressed air.

They emerged having put out the fire five minutes later.

Ketchum’s Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Ancona and Sun Valley Fire Chief Taan Robrahn celebrate the coupling of the fire hoses.

“With today’s technology, our gear is so well insulated we can stand in flames and feel it getting hotter and hotter,” said Dave Lister, an engineer for the Sun Valley Fire Department since 1975.  “You would burn your hand if you touched our clothing or our helmet the moment we stepped outside.

“When I started firefighting,” he added, “Everyone heated their homes with wood fires and everyone smoked and the appliances didn’t turn off when they overheated. So, we’re safer today. But there’s more plastic in homes today, which creates very toxic smoke.”

The new facility offers the most reliable training firefighters can do in a controlled environment. It will also offer them a facility where they can train year round.

As tour-goers rambled through the building, Robrahn showed off what’s dubbed as “a walk-in barbecue” and a Denver Drill station.

Children got a chance to wet down the new Fire Training Center, with a stream of water so strong it sometimes ricocheted to wet down parts of the audience, as well.

The latter was created following the death of a Colorado firefighter, he said. Firefighters reached the downed firefighter but were unable to get him out of a second-story window because it was hemmed in between bookcases that they couldn’t maneuver through with all their gear.

“This training facility gives us experience working in confined spaces,” Robrahn said.

The second floor contains a propane simulator where firefighters can witness fire roll over the ceiling as they go to work.

Another 13 steps takes them to the roof where there are multiple platforms from which they can rappel, practice lowering litters and perform other high angle and rope rescues. A cage ladder not only protects them as they climb but offers a way to practice crane rescues.

They can practice cutting through roofs, replacing the plywood after it’s cut. They can practice forcible entries on garage doors and regular doors.

Room configurations can be changed so firefighters can practice different scenarios.

 “When firefighters respond to a call, it’s a stressful situation,” said Robrahn.”You go in and, all of a sudden, it’s pitch black and you’ can’t see because there’s smoke from ceiling to floor. You can hear crackling. You can hear what sounds like turbine engine. Being able to train regularly prepares you for these things so you’re not caught off guard when you have to go into the real situation.”

Thomas Ancona, assistant fire chief for the Ketchum Fire Department, noted that firefighters no longer get to practice on abandoned homes as they did in the past.  Consequently, they’ve had to travel out of the valley to train at conferences.

Firefighters from other departments, including Wood River’s and Hailey’s, will have a chance to use the facility, as well.

“We do a county-wide fire academy where we train firefighters from different departments,” said Robrahn. “Because we work so closely together it’s good to be on the same page.”

The facility was paid for by donations from the community and funds raised through the annual Firefighters Ball, with the City of Ketchum donating the land in the Ketchum’s light industrial district. This year’s Firefighters Ball will be held Nov. 17 at the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum and will include live music and a silent auction.

Joanine Byerly, whose son Matty Hansen is with the Sun Valley Fire Department, was among those who applauded the new training center.

“I think this is an amazing thing for the community, and it’s nice to see the community support for the firefighters,” she said. “It’s so important for our firefighters to have this facility for training, especially since they don’t see that much action. And it’s nice to give them the opportunity to work together.”


The cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum have agreed to forge ahead on studying ways to coordinate police and fire departments to enhance safety at lower cost to taxpayers.

The Sun Valley City Council voted this past week unanimously to continue efforts to see what changes could be made to improve better delivery of services and economic efficiency. Ketchum city council members had already approved continuation of the study.


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