By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Firefighters show off their skills at MERIT Center
Times photo: Tere Dunlap Firefighters are tested on how they approach steps and second-story floors. An ax is used to pound on the floor to determine its stability to bear the firefighters' weight. The gear worn weighs 60 to 80 pounds, and air tanks test last about 15 to 30 minutes. Heat inside a structure can reach 500 to 1,000 degrees.
MONROE - About a dozen fire department vehicles from Monroe, Monticello, Juda and Brodhead rolled into the Monroe Emergency Response Inter-agency Training Center Tuesday for the final night of a three-part training session.

The MERIT Center is a joint project with Blackhawk Technical College (BTC) to provide emergency services training in south central Wisconsin. Six acres in the North Business and Industrial Park are being developed with classrooms, training props and storage for training fire departments, police, OSHA and private industry.

For the past month, the four fire departments have been involved in "Company Operations," focusing on the essential skills firefighters need to use specific apparatus.

"They have to do the basics to survive, or why go to the next level," Monroe Fire Inspector Lane Heins said.

Classes consisted of brush fires with human rescue; a hose residential and commercial obstacle course with a nozzle information station and an aerial exercise with ladder trucks plus a rescue challenge course.

While the purpose of the training is to ensure a level of competency for each firefighter, Heins said joint training also builds camaraderie between the departments and familiarizes firefighters with differences in department equipment.

"One problem is couplers of different sizes," Heins said. "But we've made modifications and are adapting."

The cross departmental training also adds a bit of competition, with each exercise being timed and recorded for each department to compare with its past training records.

When adrenaline gets going at the scene of a real fire, firefighters can "forget in the moment," Heins said. As an officer on scene, he has had to tell his firefighters to "relax, relax."

Training ensures things are done a certain way, until "it becomes second nature," Heins said.

Tuesday night was also a chance for community leaders to observe the firefighters actually training with the burning props and see the site that will become the area's premier emergency training center.

Monroe Fire Chief Daryl Rausch gave the tour of the training site.

"There's been some misunderstanding. People don't know what this is going to be," he said.

With the help of a map of the area, Rausch indicated where once weeds stood 6 to 8 feet high future training props will be placed. Plans include a farm rescue area, a confined space prop, a burn tower and testing stations for state firefighters certification now done in Janesville.

The MERIT Center will also have classrooms and a truck bay to store two emergency vehicles.

The Monroe Fire Department already has three buildings for classrooms and storage, donated by Menards and disassembled by department volunteers. They are being stored until reassembled next year.

For the moment, the MERIT Center is using low-cost props like pallets and donated trailers for burning exercises.

Some of the yearly fire school training will take place at the center, taking much of the burning exercises out of the city. Monroe will have its fire school Aug. 12. But about 1,000 firefighters from Wisconsin and Illinois will attend a weekend training school Aug. 15-17.

Roads into and around the center have just been put in with volunteer labor, donated rock and reclaimed blacktop from city street restorations.

"We have 600 hours in development time, so far, and very little cost so far," Rausch said.

Heins said the community has shown great support already, and residents are still asking when they might help donate "work in kind."

"So many people participate because they recognize the value of it," Dr. Eric Larson, president of BTC, said.

But Rausch hopes as more people come to understand the needs of the Center, more donations will come in.

Fire department members are on the lookout for possible donations.

One volunteer found two steel doors being disposed of during a company renovation. They were used Tuesday night to simulate locked doors in the hose obstacle course.

"People don't realize we can turn one prop into 100 different scenarios," Heins said.