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All fired up for unique training opportunity

Go into the smoke with Fairmount and Arvada firefighters as they practice life-saving skills at Denver Water.

Mark Chagnon, a volunteer firefighter with the Fairmount Fire Protection District in Jefferson County, jumped from his ladder truck, scrambled into protective gear, grabbed a hose and raced inside a smoke-filled home in search of reported flames.

Then, the unexpected happened. Chagnon called for help before passing out on the floor of the home.

Fortunately, on this day, Chagnon was never in real danger as the incident was part of a drill — one Chagnon and his colleagues won’t soon forget.

In January, Fairmount’s firefighters joined crews from the Arvada Fire Protection District for a unique training exercise using two homes on the grounds of Denver Water’s Ralston Reservoir facility north of Golden.

Denver Water is building a new water treatment plant next to Ralston Reservoir in Jefferson County.

The homes were once used by the caretakers who work at the reservoir, but the structures had to be torn down to make room for a new water treatment plant being built at the Ralston site.

With added surveillance during the full-time construction, and future monitoring to be provided by staff at the new treatment plant, caretakers will still operate the dam.

“We’re always looking at ways to build relationships with our community, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to offer up these homes for firefighter training before they were torn down,” said Alexis Woodrow, a community relations specialist at Denver Water.

The firefighters practiced crawling through an attic, dragging hoses through a home and cutting holes in the roof with chainsaws.

“It’s rare that someone donates a house for us to train in,” said Capt. Russ Lewis, a training officer with Fairmount Fire and Rescue. “This was a great opportunity to simulate what it would be like inside a burning home, but in a safe environment.”

Firefighters used a smoke machine to create the realistic search-and-rescue exercise in which Chagnon played the victim. With limited visibility, his fellow firefighters had to carry him up a flight of stairs and across the house to reach fresh air outside.

“This training was really valuable,” Chagnon said. “It’s a situation that hopefully will never happen, but it’s always good to be prepared.”

Firefighters from Arvada and Fairmount Fire Protection districts enter an abandoned home as part of a training exercise. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Building relationships

Fairmount Fire has a unique relationship with Denver Water.

The fire department receives water from North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District, which stores water in Ralston Reservoir. The department’s service area also includes Ralston, so firefighters could be called to the reservoir site in an emergency.

Denver Water also keeps Fairmount up to date on the status of a pipeline project that is part of the utilities’ North System Renewal Project.

“We’re building a new pipeline that runs right through Fairmount’s service area,” Woodrow said. “That’s why we always let them know if there are going to be any impacts to the roads in their district.”

Fairmount and Arvada conducted three weeks of training at the homes before they were demolished.

“Our crews are constantly working on their skills, so we’re grateful to have this opportunity,” Lewis said. “It’s also great to work with Denver Water and our neighbors in Arvada.”

The partnership with Fairmount is one example of the many relationships Denver Water has across the eight Colorado counties where it has operations and property.

“As one of the largest landowners in the state, we work with firefighters, law enforcement and other stakeholders to build and enhance partnerships in the community,” Woodrow said. “We’re hoping the training at Ralston will help save lives and strengthen our relationship with the firefighters who protect us.”