Tampa firefighters get upgraded training facility to prepare for high-rise fires

A fire in a high-rise building can be among the most challenging emergencies that first responders face. 

When people are trapped, lives can hang in the balance as firefighters race to find a way to rescue them and extinguish the fire. As new buildings in Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater get taller, the challenge grows.

Firefighters are preparing for high-rise fires.

Firefighters are preparing for high-rise fires.

"We’re putting in so many buildings, a lot of high-rises, a lot of unique structures that take unique skill sets," said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

First responders have to learn the skills to deal with potential disasters high above street level.

The new facility is taller and bigger than the last one.

The new facility is taller and bigger than the last one.

On Monday, Castor and Tampa Fire Rescue officers ceremoniously uncoupled a fire hose to mark the opening of a new training facility designed to give firefighters a taste of what they will face when fighting a fire in a high-rise building.

The facility was professionally designed and constructed using 15 shipping containers. 

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It contains a simulated elevator shaft. Practice fires can be set in different compartments and there’s an area on the roof where firefighters can practice rooftop firefighting and rappelling off the roof down to different floors. It replaces a smaller facility.

"We want to produce the best firefighter, the best first responders that we can put out there on the streets of our community," shared Chief Barbara Tripp of Tampa Fire Rescue.

High-rise fires are one of the biggest challenges for fire crews.

High-rise fires are one of the biggest challenges for fire crews.

Virtually anything can happen high up in a tall building. In Tampa, in 2002, a local high school student crashed a stolen Cessna into a downtown skyscraper. 

He was killed and there were no other injuries, but it was the kind of emergency that first responders must prepare for as our cities rise higher. 

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That’s the purpose of the new high rise training facility near McKay Bay.

"It can be used, not only for Tampa Fire Rescue, but really for the whole region to come and train on," explained Castor.

A high-rise fire is among the biggest challenges first responders face, but something they must prepare for in growing cities that continue to rise.