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San Juan College opens fire tower for training

Structure will be used by students and area firefighters
The new fire tower at San Juan College in Farmington will be used for student and area firefighter training. (Morgan Mitchell/Durango Herald)

FARMINGTON – A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held this week for a new fire tower at San Juan College’s south campus.

The fire tower will be used in conjunction with a fire science program. Construction of the tower was completed in 2019, and a ribbon-cutting was planned for 2020, but the pandemic delayed the grand reveal, said Rhonda Schaefer, a spokeswoman for the college.

The fire tower will not only be used as a training facility for the college’s fire science program, but it will also serve as a training facility for local and area firefighters and emergency personnel, Schaefer said.

Next to the fire tower is a shell of a block-looking car for a car fire simulator. Both the tower and the car operate on gas and allow instructors to control every aspect of a training fire. The fire science coordinator and instructor, Troy Brown, said at the ribbon-cutting that he could stop a blazing fire with the push of a button to keep students and those training safe.

After the ribbon-cutting, students and instructors demonstrated how to fight a fire in one of the garage sections of the tower. Then, the show moved to the car. Unfortunately, the demonstration did not go as planned because the car would not stay on fire.

“We’re trained to stop fires, not start them,” Brown joked.

The fire tower and renovation of the fire science facility was funded by a voter-approved GO Bond from 2015 that included $1.2 million for the construction of the tower and $800,000 in renovation funding for the building, Schaefer said. The state of New Mexico Severance Tax Bond funded $600,000 and San Juan County paved the 3.6-acre training lot.

Schaefer said the fire science program trains about 80 new students a year, and works with the community to help serve as a training spot for 30 to 40 local firefighters. The average annual salary of someone in the field is $45,000 to $50,000.

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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